"It was a typical spring break for a college student," Rosenthal said earlier this week. At the time, Rosenthal was a one-man sports editor at the school newspaper, The Kentucky Kernel, which took up the majority of his time during the previous eight months. Aside from his normal class schedule, Rosenthal had to produce a sports section each day. When it came time to take a break, Rosenthal jumped at the opportunity.
Although he didn't cover the team when the Wildcats lost to Texas Western in the 1966 NCAA finals, Rosenthal covered a majority of the team's contests. Aside from being a presence at most games, Rosenthal was a frequent visitor to the team's practices and even enjoyed an open-door relationship with legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp.
Rosenthal also traveled with the team, and enjoyed a relationship with most of the players, including television commentator Larry Conley. "I enjoyed doing it," he said. On the court, Rosenthal said the players were all business and "played as a team."
"They were very serious about basketball," he said. "One of the most exciting moments is when we defeated Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt."
It just happened that Kentucky was playing Texas Western in the NCAA championship the same week Rosenthal was relaxing with his friends miles away on the beach. Back then, the choice was a little simpler, but Rosenthal didn't know the impact the game would have on society more than 40 years later.
While Rosenthal missed the opportunity to witness a piece of history, former George Rogers Clark High School boys basketball coach Guy Strong was in the stands at Cole Fieldhouse in Maryland. In fact, Strong shared the motel with Texas Western. Strong and his Kentucky Wesleyan team shared the spotlight with Texas Western after guiding the Panthers to the NCAA Division II national title.
Strong, who played under Rupp and was a member of the school's NCAA championship team in 1951, was named College Coach of the Year. Ironically, Rupp was named top coach in the university division. While Texas Western won the national title with five African Americans in his starting lineup, Strong had three on his squad, each from Kentucky.
Strong attended the game between Kentucky and Texas Western, and didn't notice anything unusual. "I was at the game, and attended several clinics with (Texas Western coach) Don Haskins," Strong said earlier this week. "He was very complimentary of UK and coach Rupp." Strong said the issue of five black players playing against an all-white squad wasn't an issue at the time. A movie produced by Walt Disney Pictures — "Glory Road" — is set to debut in theaters nationwide this weekend.
"It wasn't even a factor at that time," he said. "I just think they (Hollywood) have glamorized it." As for criticism of Rupp, Strong said he never heard his coach put down black players.
"It wasn't discussed," he said. "When we got beat by Georgia one year, they (Georgia fans) followed us to the restaurant, trying to rub it in."
Rosenthal said Rupp was "an interesting character." "The first time I ever went on a trip with him, he looked at me, and I was a little intimidated because of him being coach Rupp," he said. "He pointed toward the bag of basketballs and said that rookies bring the basketballs. I have always remembered that." Strong and Rosenthal shared the "Glory Road" with Rupp.