LEXINGTON, Ky. – Joe B. Hall took on the steep challenge of following a legend and created his own successful legacy.
Hall, who succeeded Adolph Rupp and guided Kentucky to a national championship in 1978, has died. He was 93.
The program announced Hall's death in a social media post Saturday morning after the coach's family notified current Wildcats coach John Calipari. Hall and Calipari were close, and Hall was a a frequent presence at Kentucky practices and games. The retired coach would sometimes provide the “Y” when cheerleaders spelled out the state name during timeouts.
Calipari, who led Kentucky to the program's eighth national title in 2012, called Hall “my friend, my mentor and an icon in our state and in our profession” in a series of tweets. He said he visited Hall this week and added that the coach squeezed his hand tightly as Calipari prayed for him.
A moment of silence was held for Hall in Rupp Arena before No. 18 Kentucky faced 22nd-ranked rival Tennessee on Saturday. Spectators applauded during a video tribute that included interviews with the coach before fading to black with the words “Joe B. Hall Forever a Wildcat.”
Hall went 297-100 in 13 years with Kentucky. Born 20 miles north of the Lexington campus in Cynthiana, the former UK player and longtime assistant to Rupp assumed the monumental task of succeeding his boss in 1972 after Rupp was forced to retire because he turned 70.
The Wildcats were 20-8 in Hall's first season but followed that with a 13-13 campaign, their worst record in 50 years. He eventually guided them back to national prominence and college basketball's pinnacle six years later.
Led by Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Dan Conner and Rick Robey, Kentucky reached the Final Four in 1975, its first appearance since 1966. The Wildcats lost the championship game 92-85 to UCLA in coach John Wooden's final game with the Bruins.
Three years later, Hall and Kentucky earned another banner to hang from the rafters of Rupp Arena, which was named after the longtime coach and opened in 1976.
The Wildcats went 30-2 and won their first NCAA title in 20 years, beating Duke 94-88 in St. Louis behind 41 points from Jack “Goose” Givens. It was Kentucky's fifth championship and first in 20 years. More than 10,000 fans greeted the returning team at Blue Grass Airport.
The program also reached the Final Four in 1984, losing to Georgetown in the national semifinals. Hall retired a year later at age 57.
Hall coached 24 players who were drafted into the NBA, including five first-round selections. He was named the national coach of the year in 1978 and Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year four times. Seven of his players earned All-American honors 11 times.