- November 30, 1928
Joe B. Hall, who grew up just minutes north of the University of Kentucky campus in Cynthiana, had the unenviable task of following the legendary Adolph Rupp, who was forced to retire at age 70. But Hall, the former Rupp assistant, met the challenge head on, coaching three teams to the Final Four (1975, 78 and 84) and winning the 1978 NCAA Championship, the school’s fifth title and first in 12 seasons.
Hall began his association with Kentucky as a student–athlete during the Fabulous Five era. He played one year of junior varsity and one year of varsity basketball before transferring to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he finished his eligibility and set a single-game scoring record. Following his college career, Hall toured Europe with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1951, but later returned to UK and completed his degree requirements.
His coaching career began at Shepherdsville (Ky.) High School in 1956. It continued on to Regis College in Denver, where he spent five years (57-50 record), and Central Missouri State, where he recorded a 19-6 mark in one season before returning to UK as an assistant to Rupp on July 1, 1965. As an assistant, he spearheaded landing future All-Americans Dan Issel, Mike Pratt and Kevin Grevey.
Hall played a large role in the integration of Black student-athletes into the Kentucky men’s basketball program, first as an assistant coach under Rupp, then recruiting Reggie Warford as the program’s second Black recruit in his first freshman class. Four of his seven All-Americans were Black, and eight of the 13 players on his final team were Black. He also hired Leonard Hamilton, the program’s first Black assistant coach, and his 1978 national championship team was led by Jack “Goose” Givens and James Lee.
For all of Rupp’s success, the program had gone 20 seasons without a national title when Hall made the defining run of his career to the top of college basketball. In the opening game of the NCAA Tournament of that run, Hall courageously benched three starters with his team trailing at halftime. The reserves inspired a comeback, and UK pulled away. In the national title game, Kentucky defeated Duke 94-88 led by 41 points from Givens, still the most points scored by a Wildcat in an NCAA Tournament game.
As the UK head coach, Hall won National Coach of the Year honors in 1978 and four SEC Coach of the Year awards. He had seven players win All-America honors 11 times and nine Wildcats were voted All-SEC on 15 occasions.
Halls squads recorded a 172-62 (73.5%) record vs. SEC competition during the regular season, winning eight SEC titles in 13 seasons and one league tournament championship in six tries.
After Calipari was hired, Hall famously calmed Calipari down after his first practice when it became apparent to the new UK head coach he had his work cut out for him with a roster rebuild.
As Hall became a mentor to Calipari, Calipari returned the favor by making sure Hall was embraced by the program. Hall had an open invitation to practice, and he took Calipari up on the offer by routinely attending multiple practices a week. He also had season tickets at midcourt just a few rows up, was the “Y” multiple times at UK games and never wasted an opportunity to let Calipari know that he should try his vaunted 1-3-1 zone defense. He remained a key figure in the Lexington and Cynthiana communities late in his life.
“Coach Hall will forever be remembered for his success in keeping the Kentucky men’s basketball tradition alive following Adolph Rupp,” said former player and UK Athletics Hall of Famer Kyle Macy. “Very few coaches have been able to follow a legend with the success Coach Hall did. His homegrown love and respect for the Kentucky program constantly motivated him to achieve that success. On a personal level, I have not only lost my former coach, but someone I considered a good friend. He will be missed.”
The revival of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry happened under Coach Hall. Although the Wildcats lost to Louisville in the 1983 Mideast Regional finals – called the “Dream Game” – Hall’s team defeated the Cardinals twice the next season, including in the 1984 NCAA Tournament. The series has been played in every season since.
Once a rival with former Louisville head coach Denny Crum, the two would go on to team up for a five-days-a-week radio show for more than a decade that lasted until 2014.
Hall was a winner on the court, but his players best remember him by his impact in the community and his love for the state in the latter stages of his life.
The tradition of Midnight Madness started under Hall, when fans got a first glimpse in October of the team’s first practice. It has since evolved into Big Blue Madness, a celebration at a packed Rupp Arena to mark the start of the men’s and women’s basketball seasons.
Hall was key in the creation of the original Wildcat Lodge, the dormitory for the men’s basketball team that was just a few hundred feet away from the Wildcats’ practice facility at Memorial Coliseum. It was named in his honor. The new dormitory, the Wildcat Coal Lodge, features a bronze statue of Hall out front.
Hall died at his residence in Lexington, Kentucky, on January 15, 2022, at the age of 93. He was buried at The Lexington Cemetery. Hall was preceded in death by his wife of 55 years, Katharine, who died in 2007. He was survived by three children, daughters Judy Derrickson and Kathy Summers, and son, Steven Hall, and three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.