The Road to 2000

Kentucky will likely get their 2000th victory Monday night against Drexel. That would make the Wildcats the first program to reach that mark. Over the course of 107 years of basketball for the Kentucky program, there have been many high and low points. KSR takes a look at several important moments in UK basketball history.

Kentucky will likely get their 2000th victory Monday night against Drexel. That would make the Wildcats the first program to reach that mark. Over the course of 107 years of basketball for the Kentucky program, there have been many high and low points. KSR takes a look at several important moments in UK basketball history.

UK Olympic Team - The original, "Fabulous Five" was the first NCAA Championship team for Adolph Rupp. This edition of the Wildcats was also chosen to represent the United States in the Olympics. The Wildcats defeated France at Wembley Stadium in London on August 13, 1948 to win the Olympic Gold. It was a dominant performance as the Cats won 64-21. Alex Groza led a balanced attack of only two Wildcats in double figures (Ray Lumpp had 10). Thirteen Wildcats scored that day. The Wildcats were only challenged one time during the games, narrowly defeating Argentina 59-57. Omar Browning coached the Wildcats to their Olympic victories.

Rupp's Record-Breaking Victory - Adolph Rupp wasn't the only legendary coach prowling the sidelines in Kentucky. Ed Diddle, who retired after the 1964 season held the NCAA all-time wins mark at 759. Rupp went on to break that record less than three years later, on February 18th, 1967. Kentucky defeated Mississippi State 103-74 to get the win. In the victory, Kentucky was led by Louie Dampier's 32 points. Pat Riley chipped in with 26 points. Thad Jaracz added nine rebounds. The Wildcats only went 13 and 13 that season and this was the biggest bright spot in their season.

First Black Player - The Southeastern Conference in the late sixties, much like the rest of the south, was very segregated. With racial tensions high, on June 9th, 1969, Kentucky signed the first African-American player to play varsity basketball for the Wildcats. Tom Payne, a Louisville native, signed with Kentucky and as a sophomore led the team in rebounding and was second in scoring. Payne went on to the NBA after one season, but along with Perry Wallace of Vanderbilt (67-68) and Henry Thomas of Auburn (69-70) began the movement to a more integrated conference.

Saying Goodbye - After coaching Kentucky for 42 years, the Baron, Adolph Rupp was forced into retirement. A rule stating that all the university employees must retire by age 70 pushed the man responsible for 876 of Kentucky's wins out of the game of basketball. Rupp's style of play forced tempo on both offense and defense, which made it difficult on the opposing team. Rupp led Kentucky to four national championships and six final fours. A loss to Florida State on March 18th, 1972 was Rupp's last game. After the season, Rupp spoke to the attendees at the season ending banquet. He said, "For those of you who have gone down the glory road with me, my eternal thanks." Rupp died on December 10th, 1977.

Kentucky's Fifth Championship - Kentucky hadn't won a national championship in 20 years and while Adolph Rupp had left the program still close to the top of the basketball world, Joe B. Hall still knew that he needed a championship for his program and his own legacy. The Wildcats only lost two games during the regular season and eventually reached the national championship game. On March 27th, 1978, in St. Louis, Missouri, Kentucky defeated Duke 94-88. Senior forward Jack Givens blistered the nets against the Duke Blue Devils for 41 points. Rick Robey chipped in with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Probation - On May 19th, 1989 the NCAA charged Kentucky with several violations, which nearly led to the "death penalty" for the program. There were allegations of player payments and academic fraud. Rather than give the program the ultimate penalty, the NCAA put Kentucky on three years probation including a two-year ban from postseason play and a ban from live television appearances during the 1989-90 season. Head Coach Eddie Sutton and Athletics Director and former Wildcat Cliff Hagan were for forced to resign under the turmoil.

Hiring Rick Pitino - In late spring 1989, Kentucky has just been sanctioned by the NCAA for several rules violations which restricted everything from television appearance to NCAA tournament appearances. Rick Pitino was head coach of the New York Knicks but chose to leave his post in the NBA and on June 2nd, 1989 he was named head man at UK. In accepting the challenge, Pitino led Kentucky back into relevance and to a point of NCAA dominance. In eight seasons at Kentucky, Pitino led Kentucky to six NCAA tournaments and three final fours, including a 1996 National Championship. That title was Kentucky's first in 18 years and legitimized Pitino's legacy at Kentucky.

Retaking the Throne - Kentucky took on Wake Forest on March 23rd, 1996 in the West Region Final. The Deacons squad featured a young Tim Duncan with hopes of upsetting the Wildcats on the way to the Final Four. Instead Kentucky got 25 points from Tony Delk in the 83-63 victory over the Deacons. With that victory, Kentucky over took North Carolina for most wins (1647) in NCAA basketball history and since that day, the Wildcats have held firm to that record.

Wildcats Get Number Six - After coming back from near death behind NCAA sanctions, Rick Pitino's goal for Kentucky was like the goal of many programs; win a national championship. Pitino had finally assembled a talented, hungry group led by All-American guard Tony Delk and eight other future pros, that was capable of taking a national crown. The Wildcats defeated Syracuse on April 1st, 1996, for the program's sixth NCAA championship. The 76-67 victory was led by Tony Delk (24 points) and freshman Ron Mercer (20 points). This was Kentucky's first national championship in 18 years and let the nation know that Kentucky was back on the map as a program.

Coach Cal - With Kentucky fans hungering for a return to dominance, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and President Lee Todd decided to go after one of the hottest and most proven names in the coaching business. John Calipari was formally announced as head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats on April 1st, 2009. Calipari has already paid dividends to the program with several quality prospects on board and is also on course to lead Kentucky to their 2000th victory. Calipari has reignited the fire of a fan-base that was starved for a winner. Calipari's work ethic and enthusiasm for the game will likely bring Kentucky back to the successes of the past.

A special thanks to Jon Scott and his website for all the information.

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