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Adolph Rupp
Adolph Rupp 1954 portrait.jpg
Rupp in 1954
Biographical details
Born (1901-09-02)September 2, 1901
Halstead, Kansas, U.S.
Died December 10, 1977(1977-12-10) (aged 76)
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
Playing career
1920–1923 Kansas
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1926–1930 Freeport HS
1930–1972 Kentucky
Head coaching record
Overall 876–190 (college)
Accomplishments and honors
As a coach
4× NCAA Division I tournament (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958)
6× NCAA Regional – Final Four (1942, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1966)
27× SEC regular season (1933, 1935, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1944–1952, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1968–1972)
13× SEC tournament (1933, 1937, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1944–1950, 1952)
SoCon regular season (1932)
As a player
2× Helms National (1922, 1923)
5× National Coach of the Year (1950, 1954, 1959, 1966, 1970)
7× SEC Coach of the Year (1964, 1966, 1968–1972)
Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1969
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006

Adolph Frederick Rupp (September 2, 1901 – December 10, 1977) was an American college basketball coach. He is ranked seventh in total victories by a men's NCAA Division I college coach, winning 876 games in 41 years of coaching at the University of Kentucky. Rupp is also second among all men's college coaches in all-time winning percentage (.822), trailing only Mark Few. Rupp was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 13, 1969.

Early life

Rupp was born September 2, 1901 in Halstead, Kansas to Heinrich Rupp, a German immigrant, and Anna Lichi, a Palatinate (Quirnheim, Germany) immigrant. The fourth of six children, Rupp grew up on a 163-acre farm that his parents had homesteaded. He began playing basketball as a young child, with the help of his mother, who made a ball for him by stuffing rags into a gunnysack. "Mother sewed it up and somehow made it round," he recalled in 1977. "You couldn't dribble it. You couldn't bounce it either."

Rupp was a star for the Halstead High School basketball team, one of the first in the area to play with a real basketball. He averaged 19 points a game. Former teammates described Rupp as the team's unofficial coach.

After high school, Rupp attended the University of Kansas from 1919 to 1923. He worked part-time at the student Jayhawk Cafe to help pay his college expenses. In 1922, Adolph pledged and was initiated into the Iota chapter of International Fraternity of Delta Sigma Pi. Later in 1966, he was named Deltasig of the Year by the fraternity. He was a reserve on the basketball team under Hall of Fame coach Phog Allen from 1919 to 1923. Assisting Allen during that time was his former coach and inventor of the game of basketball, James Naismith, whom Rupp also got to know well during his time in Lawrence.

In Rupp's junior and senior college seasons (1921–22 and 1922–23), Kansas (KU) had outstanding basketball squads. Later, both of these standout Kansas teams would be awarded the Helms National Championship, recognizing the Jayhawks as the top team in the nation during those seasons.

He received an MA from Teachers College, Columbia University.

High school coaching

Rupp in 1930

Rupp began his career in coaching by accepting a teaching job at Burr Oak High School, Kansas. After a one-year stay, Rupp moved on to Marshalltown, Iowa, where he coached wrestling, a sport he knew nothing about at the time and learned from a book. He led the Marshalltown team to a state wrestling title in 1926.

In 1926–30, Rupp accepted the basketball head coaching position at Freeport High School, (Freeport, Illinois) where he also taught history and economics. During his four years at Freeport, Rupp compiled a record of 66–21 and guided his team to a third-place finish in the 1929 state tournament. While at Freeport High School Rupp started William "Mose" Mosely, the first African-American to play basketball at Freeport and the second to graduate from the school.

University of Illinois head basketball coach Craig Ruby was invited to speak at the team banquet following the 1929–30 season. Ruby informed Rupp of the Kentucky head coaching job and followed up by recommending him for the job.

During his time in Freeport, Rupp met his future wife, Esther Schmidt.

University of Kentucky

Rupp coached the University of Kentucky men's basketball team from 1930 to 1972. There, he gained the nicknames, "Baron of the Bluegrass", and "The Man in the Brown Suit". Rupp was inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa at Kentucky in 1937. Rupp's Wildcat teams won four NCAA championships (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958), one National Invitation Tournament title in 1946, appeared in 20 NCAA tournaments, had six NCAA Final Four appearances, captured 27 Southeastern Conference regular season titles, and won 13 Southeastern Conference tournaments. Rupp's Kentucky teams also finished ranked #1 on six occasions in the final Associated Press college basketball poll and four times in the United Press International (Coaches) poll. In addition, Rupp's 1966 Kentucky squad—nicknamed "Rupp's Runts"— finished runner-up in the NCAA tournament and Rupp's 1947 Wildcats finished runner-up in the National Invitation Tournament. Rupp's 1933 and 1954 Kentucky squads were also retroactively named national champions by the Helms Athletic Foundation; his 1934, 1947, and 1948 teams were retroactively named the national champion by the Premo-Porretta Power Poll.

Adolph Rupp in 1963 Miss State yearbook
Rupp coaching in 1963

In his 41 seasons as UK coach, Rupp coached 32 All-Americans, chosen 50 times, 52 All-SEC players, chosen 91 times, 44 NBA Draft Picks, 2 National Players-of-the-Year, 7 Olympic Gold Medalists, and 4 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame members. He was a 5-time National Coach-of-the-Year award winner, and a 7-time Conference Coach-of-the-Year award winner. Rupp was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, College Basketball Hall of Fame, Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, Kansas Athletic Hall of Fame, University of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, and Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame. Further, since 1972, the Adolph Rupp Trophy, considered one of the nation's premier basketball awards, has been given by the Commonwealth Athletic Club to the top men's college basketball player. In addition, the University of Kentucky retired a jersey in his honor in the rafters of Rupp Arena, a 23,500-seat arena named after him, dedicated in 1976.

Rupp was forced into retirement in March 1972, at the age of 70. At the time, this was the mandatory retirement age for all University of Kentucky employees.

1966 championship game against Texas Western

A pivotal game in Rupp's career and for college basketball in general was the 1966 NCAA championship game at Cole Field House against Texas Western, coached by Don Haskins. It featured Kentucky's all-white team against Texas Western's all-black starting five, and took place at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The game, which Texas Western won 72–65, helped accelerate the ongoing integration movement in college basketball, as well as the overall recruiting approach of the SEC, ACC, and SWC conferences.

Coaching style and philosophy

Rupp was an early innovator of the fast break and set offense. His offense consisted of 10–15 set plays (with variations for each), complete with extensive offensive movement and screening. Early basketball innovations such as the "guard around" play and inside screen were first developed by Rupp in the 1930s. Likewise, he was an early proponent of the fast break, which his Kentucky teams used at every opportunity throughout his career. For most of his coaching career he preferred only a tight man-to-man defense, but during the 1963–64 season, he became one of the first coaches to begin experimenting with the trapping 1–3–1 zone defense, and his Kentucky teams used this defense at times for the remainder of his career. Throughout his time at Kentucky, Rupp's recruiting focused largely on local and regional talent; over 80% of Rupp's Kentucky players came from the state of Kentucky.

Rupp strongly emphasized the fundamentals of basketball, both on offense and defense, and overall discipline. He believed that excellence was achieved only through repetition, and his practices stressed individual instruction, precision, and continuity. Rupp was very demanding of his players, constantly putting extreme pressure on them in practice, and mercilessly berating them for any mistakes.


Rupp, a very superstitious man, was known to carry a "lucky" buckeye in his pocket. His favorite sign of good luck was finding a pin, especially a bobby pin, particularly on a game day. The depth of his superstitious nature was revealed while he was coaching at Freeport, when he had bought a new blue suit to replace his old brown one. He wore his new suit to a game, and his team got beaten badly. Rupp never again wore anything but a brown suit to games.

Civil rights

Rupp hired assistant coach Neil Reed in 1960 to help recruit African-American players and once asked the UK president to leave the SEC so he could recruit black players. Rupp tried his best to sign in-state black players Wes Unseld (the first black player Rupp made a formal scholarship offer in 1964) and Butch Beard before both picked Louisville. Rupp signed his first black player, troubled 7'2" center Tom Payne, who played in the 1971 season. After his lone varsity season, Payne, who was on the verge of flunking out of school, joined the NBA's first-ever supplemental draft.

Career after Kentucky

In April 1972, Rupp was named Team President of the Memphis Pros, soon to become the Memphis Tams, of the American Basketball Association.

In June 1973 Rupp quit as Tams president, calling the ABA "bush league" and saying it "would never survive". Three months later, Rupp was hired as Vice President of the Board of the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association.


Rupp died of spinal cancer at age 76 in Lexington, Kentucky, on December 10, 1977, on a night when Kentucky defeated his alma mater, Kansas, at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. The game that night was promoted as "Adolph Rupp Night". He is buried in Lexington Cemetery. Rupp Arena, the current home of the Kentucky men's basketball team, is named in his honor.

Head coaching record


Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Kentucky Wildcats (Southern Conference) (1930–1932)
1930–31 Kentucky 15–3 8–2 4th
1931–32 Kentucky 15–2 9–1 T–1st
Kentucky: 30–5 17–3
Kentucky Wildcats (Southeastern Conference) (1932–1972)
1932–33 Kentucky 21–3 8–0 1st Helms National Champion
1933–34 Kentucky 16–1 11–0 1st Premo-Porretta National Champion
1934–35 Kentucky 19–2 11–0 T–1st
1935–36 Kentucky 15–6 6–2 1st
1936–37 Kentucky 17–5 5–3 T–5th
1937–38 Kentucky 13–5 6–0 1st
1938–39 Kentucky 16–4 5–2 3rd
1939–40 Kentucky 15–6 4–4 6th
1940–41 Kentucky 17–8 8–1 1st
1941–42 Kentucky 19–6 6–2 3rd NCAA final Four
1942–43 Kentucky 17–6 8–1 1st
1943–44 Kentucky 19–2 NIT Third Place
1944–45 Kentucky 22–4 4–1 T-1st NCAA Elite Eight
1945–46 Kentucky 28–2 6–0 T-1st NIT champion
1946–47 Kentucky 34–3 11–0 1st NIT Runner-up, Premo-Porretta National Champion
1947–48 Kentucky 36–3 9–0 1st NCAA champion, Premo-Porretta National Champion
1948–49 Kentucky 32–2 13–0 1st NCAA champion, NIT Quarterfinal
1949–50 Kentucky 25–5 11–2 1st NIT Quarterfinal
1950–51 Kentucky 32–2 14–0 1st NCAA champion
1951–52 Kentucky 29–3 14–0 1st NCAA Elite Eight
1952–53 No team*
1953–54 Kentucky 25–0 15–0** T–1st Helms National Champion
1954–55 Kentucky 23–3 12–2 1st NCAA Sweet 16
1955–56 Kentucky 20–6 12–2 2nd NCAA Elite Eight
1956–57 Kentucky 23–5 12–2 1st NCAA University Division Elite Eight
1957–58 Kentucky 23–6 12–2 1st NCAA University Division champion
1958–59 Kentucky 24–3 12–2 T–2nd NCAA University Division Sweet 16
1959–60 Kentucky 18–7 10–4 3rd
1960–61 Kentucky 19–9 11–4** T–2nd NCAA University Division Elite Eight
1961–62 Kentucky 23–3 13–1 T–1st NCAA University Division Elite Eight
1962–63 Kentucky 16–9 8–6 5th
1963–64 Kentucky 21–6 11–3 1st NCAA University Division Sweet 16
1964–65 Kentucky 15–10 10–6 5th
1965–66 Kentucky 27–2 15–1 1st NCAA University Division Runner-up
1966–67 Kentucky 13–13 8–10 T–5th
1967–68 Kentucky 22–5 15–3 1st NCAA University Division Elite Eight
1968–69 Kentucky 23–5 16–2 1st NCAA University Division Sweet 16
1969–70 Kentucky 26–2 17–1 1st NCAA University Division Elite 8
1970–71 Kentucky 22–6 16–2 1st NCAA University Division Sweet 16
1971–72 Kentucky 21–7 14–4 T–1st NCAA University Division Elite Eight
Kentucky: 876–190 399–75
Total: 876–190

      National champion         Conference regular season champion         Conference tournament champion
      Conference regular season and conference tournament champion       Conference division champion

  • ** Record includes SEC playoff tiebreaker games
  • The team did not play in the 1952–53 season because of involvement in a point shaving scandal.

See also

  • List of college men's basketball coaches with 600 wins
  • List of NCAA Division I Men's Final Four appearances by coach
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