A Front-Row Seat with the Sportswriters Who Sat There
Sit down with host Todd Jones and other sportswriters who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first-hand some of the biggest sports moments in the past 50 years. They’ll share stories behind the stories -- some they’ve only told to each other.
Jerry Tipton – “Every Once in a While, You Feel Like You’re Witnessing History.”
Jerry Tipton knows where all the bones are buried when it comes to University of Kentucky basketball after covering the Wildcats for 41 years. The Hall of Fame writer takes us courtside for the Dream Game with Louisville in 1983 and the legendary Duke game (uh, Laettner) in ‘92. He tells what season stands out more than any other and why, and what he admired about Cawood Ledford as an announcer. Hear how Rick Pitino handled the spotlight, what made Jamal Mashburn a special player, and why a healthy Sam Bowie lingers in memory. Jerry reveals the nickname Joe Hall gave him and recounts their philosophical discussion about the eternal fate of sportswriters. And he explains the expectations of Kentucky fans, how he coped with the relentless beat, and what bowling – yes, bowling – taught him about journalism.
Tipton served as the Kentucky basketball beat reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader from 1981 until his retirement in July 2022. In that time, he covered three national championship teams (’96, ’98, ’12), nine Final Four teams, six head coaches -- Joe Hall, Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, Billy Gillispie, John Calipari – and more than 1,200 games played by the Wildcats. He also covered the university’s football team for six years before turning exclusively to basketball in 1987. A Lexington website once listed the Top 100 Most Influential People in University of Kentucky Sports History and ranked Tipton at No. 74. He has been enshrined in the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, and the Marshall University School of Journalism and Mass Communication Hall of Fame. He was the 2018 winner of the Tom Hammond Kentucky Sports Media Award.
Mike Johnson, former Herald-Leader sports editor who hired Tipton, told that paper: “I spent 46 years in the news business. Jerry is simply the best beat reporter I’ve ever seen. Not sports reporter, beat reporter.”
Tipton also worked eight years for the Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch from 1973-81. There, he was the beat reporter on Marshall University basketball for two seasons, covered Ohio and West Virginia high school sports, and wrote a Sunday column about bowling. The native of Hamtramck, Michigan earned a journalism degree from Marshall University after first studying math in college. Tipton was a sophomore when the Marshall plane crash killed much of the Thundering Herd football team, as memorialized in the movie “We Are Marshall.” Jerry didn’t learn that his roommate, a manager for the team, was alive until three days later.
“Jerry Tipton has been synonymous with Kentucky basketball for 40 years and that should be applauded,” John Calipari told the Herald-Leader. “He’s never been afraid to ask tough questions, even when I might not have liked it. But his dedication to the Lexington community and unwavering work ethic has resulted in a Hall of Fame career. I wish him nothing but the best in his retirement.”
Jerry Tipton edited transcript
[00:00:01.870] - Todd
Hey, Jerry, thanks for taking time from the grueling demands of your retirement to join us on press box access.
[00:00:09.830] - Jerry
Well, thank you, Todd. Yes, it's an interesting experience. I tell tell people I had never retired before, so I don't know exactly how to do this, but they're so good.
[00:00:23.120] - Todd
Well, I know one thing about retirement. You're buying all the beer right now, right? For us.
[00:00:29.810] - Jerry
Well, actually, one of my objectives, I think I like to have objectives and goals and to be trying to achieve. And one of them is I'm trying to trim up and get in better shape. I don't know why exactly. One of my sons asked me, so that's my goal. I've been working out. And no alcohol, so we'll see.
[00:00:52.150] - Todd
That doesn't mean you can't buy it for me.
[00:00:54.650] - Jerry
Well, yeah. All right.
[00:00:57.730] - Todd
We first met, I think it was 1986, when I was a snotnosed kid at the Colonel, the University of Kentucky student paper. And this was early in your legendary tenure as the beat reporter covering the University of Kentucky basketball for the Lexus and Herald Leader. You ended up carving out a hall of Fame career, 41 years on the Kentucky beat until you retired on July 1 of 2022. 41 years. Jerry, when you reflect on that, what do you think about?
[00:01:31.550] - Jerry
Well, it seems sort of unbelievable, to be honest with you. In my farewell column, I pointed out that I kind of work and live in a bubble where I'm only thinking about the last one or two stories, usually second guessing what I've done, how it could have been better, and then thinking ahead one or two stories. But it's kind of embarrassing, to be honest. I don't know why, but 41 years, and it is hard to wrap my head around. I know Adolf Rob was the Kentucky coach for 42 years, so I didn't want to match him. He should be alone.
[00:02:36.550] - Todd
You covered more than 1200 Kentucky games, three national championship teams, nine different teams, and all that went to the Final Four. Six coaches. When you think about everything you covered in totality, how would you sum that up?
[00:02:58.790] - Jerry
Well, I've always felt lucky from day one to be covering something that, as you know, the readers are so intensely interested in. And it was almost like when our circulation was however many thousand it was, I considered them all copy editors. They were looking at the stories almost word for word. And in a way, that was good because it sort of at least kept me on my toes more so than they might have been otherwise. And like the journalism professors say, you shouldn't assume that. They sort of echoed that in their own way, the readers did because they were checking facts and spelling and everything. And in a way that was good. It took some adjusting, but it was a good adjustment to make.
[00:03:50.040] - Todd
Well, when you think about it, as a writer you want to write for somebody that's passionate about the subject. Right?
[00:03:55.740] - Jerry
Absolutely. That was one of the many benefits of covering Kentucky that you knew your stories were going to be read and if you happen to do a good story maybe somebody around the canal in the age of the Internet and so on somebody people around the country or world, I suppose could read the story. That's also a thing to keep you on your toes. But I felt very blessed to be writing about something people care about. Right.
[00:04:31.480] - Todd
Well, once called it the Roman Empire of college basketball, kentucky basketball. You start out your own career. You were working in Huntington, West Virginia, for several years.
[00:04:49.260] - Jerry
[00:04:49.560] - Todd
You were doing Marshall basketball and Ohio and West Virginia high schools and I think you're even a bowling rider. Is that correct?
[00:04:58.470] - Jerry
That is correct.
You did the Sunday bowling column. I'm fixated on this because I'm fascinated. Was there recruiting and bowling?
[00:07:34.230] - Jerry
Well, bowling was like a world unto itself. And the people that bowled and read the bowling column were into it. I don't know what percentage of the total readers fit that description, but the ones that did were into it. It wasn't recreation. It was more than that. And so anyway, that was kind of my introduction into how journalism can lead to controversy. Because really, I went around there were three bowling houses in Huntington and one in Ashland, Kentucky. And I had to go around on Friday morning and get the scores for the week. And then I would come back to the office and type up everybody had a 200 game and a 600 series or higher, if I remember. And so that was the agit that went along with the bowling column. And I always went to this one bowling house, ted Ned's Pro Bowl. I went there last. That was in Huntington. And I would get lunch there because now it's late morning and they had a great tuna sandwich. So I would get a tuna sandwich. And if the owner usually was Ted, if he was there, he would insist on paying for the sandwich.
[00:08:53.080] - Jerry
And looking back on it now, I should not have done that, right? I didn't know better. So anyway, to get to the Chase, if you bowled a really good score in a game or a series, the local bowling secretary, for lack of a better word, would come around to the alley, to the bowling house, make sure everything was right, make sure it happens, make sure the conditions were right. There was nothing, no cheating. And then if everything was fine, the secretary would send something to the national bowling office and then the national office would send you, the bowler, a certificate recognizing acknowledging your great game. So anyway, the secretary went to Ted and Ed's and they saw that the lanes were not oiled correctly. You oiled the lanes so there's less friction on the ball rolling across the wood. And if you can oil them in a way where the ball was more likely to go into the pocket and you'd have a better score. So he did not report this big score. It wasn't legit. So I wrote about that, and I also compared averages. All the houses would post on their walls. Everybody's big average.
[00:10:19.110] - Jerry
So I checked, compared to the houses, and Ted Ned had higher scores.
[00:10:26.030] - Jerry
You draw whatever conclusion you want to draw. And so I wrote it, and it caused the controversy. And they had a big meeting, and the sports editor and me and bowling officials and Ted and Ed were at this meeting. And the only thing I'm thinking about is, was it accurate?
[00:10:45.910] - Todd
[00:10:47.430] - Jerry
Everything else is out of my area. And nobody ever questioned the accuracy of what I wrote. I talked to the secretary. I didn't make it up. And so anyway, all they talked about was basically, you shouldn't have written it. I didn't see it right or wrong. I just shouldn't have done it.
[00:11:06.860] - Todd
It wasn't good on the team.
[00:11:08.570] - Jerry
Jerry right, exactly. So it ends, and I go up to Ted afterwards and tell him, just so you know, there was nothing personal involved. I was just doing my job. And he said he didn't believe that, especially after all the tuna fish sandwiches he bought me. So now I felt bad, compromised, and dumb. So I got some money. I reached in my pocket, and it wasn't much more than like $10 back then. $10 could get you several tuna fish sandwiches. And he was embarrassed that I was giving him $10 to square it. And I learned about don't take things. It may seem totally innocent, which it did. It didn't cross my mind that I was being bribed, but in a way.
[00:12:06.100] - Todd
It sounds like it was good training for what you had to deal with. You learned a lot about journalism, cover Marshall basketball and other things, and then you show up in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1981 to cover Kentucky basketball and football at the time, by the way, at what point did you realize you were in dealing with a different beast that is Kentucky basketball?
[00:12:40.610] - Jerry
Well, I started with football. I mean, that was the start of the school year, so I did football and then basketball. And in 1981, Fran Percy was the coach, and I was a total innocent. And I didn't realize but I came to realize that he was on the hot seat. If they didn't have a good season, which was not likely, he might get fired. So he wasn't in the best of moods. So this was kind of baptism by fire, and I was just trying to learn. And I think the new guy can be pretty easy to pick on, so I got picked on some. And if you remember DG Fitz Morris, he was the columnist at the Hero Leader at the time, and he was a great guy. I was in a city of strangers and he befriended me and helped me. And I remember he introduced me to Fran Cursey right at the start, and Fran almost immediately asked me what sport did I like better, football or basketball? And so nowadays I would say football just for political reasons. But back then I was trying to be honest without being too honest, so I just said I like both, which was more or less true.
[00:14:07.590] - Jerry
That was not the right answer he wanted. Football is the answer. So whatever chance I had for a smooth takeaway on the Kentucky beat, I think died that day.
[00:14:21.830] - Todd
Well, then you head into basketball season and Kentucky basketball. I'm a native of Kentucky. I've graduated the University of Kentucky. I feel like I understand where the folks are coming from, the fans. It probably is the most passionate fan base, certainly in college sports.
[00:14:56.870] - Jerry
Well, as you know, they're into it, and there's sort of a reverence I think they have for Kentucky basketball. And as you know, newsrooms, that's where irreverence reigns, ideally. Anyway, there's no reverence. You're trying to cover something objectively. Right. And you can't do that if you have reverence for it. So anyway, there's kind of a built in chance for conflict, I would say. My favorite story along those lines was, if you remember street and Smith magazine, it was to me, the preseason magazine back then. Right. And one year, and I think I can't remember, I guess I don't know if I was looking for a story or the Sunday Notes column, but anyway, in their preseason magazine, this was in the mid early 80s, they had Kentucky number two in their preseason top 25. Yeah, I was going to call Jim O'Brien, the editor, and just do a note, and my thought was how much he likes Kentucky. He must really like Kentucky, number two in the country. So I get him and we talk. What do you like about Kentucky? Says, oh, yeah, they have really good guard play, and they're big guys, are elite.
[00:16:21.270] - Jerry
I'm just kind of nodding yes. Okay, nothing surprising there. So then I thought, well, okay, what kind of feedback have you gotten from Kentucky fans? And he says, oh, they're really mad at me. They're really upset. And I said, really? Why are they upset? He said, they're mad because how could you rate us so low? Number two. Wow. Number two in the country. And I think that sums up there are pro teams that I had that sort of feeling for, that they were different and not just among the crowd. And as you know, that's how Kentucky fans see Kentucky. It's a separate category, I like to say. They see Kentucky as the Globetrotters. Everybody else is the Washington Generals. That includes Duke, Carolina, Kansas, whoever you want to say.
[00:17:16.540] - Todd
[00:17:17.800] - Jerry
[00:17:19.350] - Todd
But it didn't always make for an easy relationship with you and the fans, though, right?
[00:17:55.370] - Jerry
Well, I tried to understand, and then I tried to make it be a fun thing as much as I could. And after they you might like this. I think I wrote about this after they lost to St. Peters in the tournament this year. I was thinking after I was done with the stories, but I bet I'll get an angry email or two. And the next morning before we left Indianapolis to drive home, I was checking my mail and so on, and there was an email, and early on it said, I bet you're not going to read this all the way through. And I thought, here we go. So it was like a challenge. Okay, I will read it all the way. It wasn't that long, but I noticed there were F bombs in it and more than once fu at me. I read it a second time just to count the Fbombs, and there were six. And so he didn't like a question. I asked one of the players, I forget that the postgame press conference. You can watch it on social media or the Internet. I wouldn't want that to make a difference. I'm just trying to do my job, but I'm not thinking the fans might hear.
[00:19:10.640] - Jerry
So anyway, I wrote him back and told him that I would ask the sports editor and about my question, did I ask it properly? Was it okay? And I also asked John Clay, one of our columnist who was also in the post game press conference, did I ask it okay? And they both said it was fine. And the guy wrote me back and apologized. And I think what the fans want is just some sort of acknowledgment respect for their interest. And not very early on, I might lash back, and that just fueled the fire. It just got worse. So after that, I tried to be respectful no matter what. And that seemed to smooth the water as waters out.
[00:20:45.500] - Todd
During 40 years, was there ever a time where it just got to be too much, too negative for you?
[00:20:51.970] - Jerry
Not really. I mean, it's kind of the fun part of it, I think it makes me feel like I'm doing my job, or I was doing my job, that if everybody was just constantly applauding, I would wonder if I was doing objective about what I was covering. So I always felt like that if the reporter is doing his or her job and the coach is doing his or her job, or the fans, there's a built in friction there because there are different agendas. And I'm just trying to inform the reader as best I can or put things in perspective. And for the most part, the coach is trying to win games. And sometimes being honest in what's going on might not be helpful in terms of winning. Right.
[00:21:45.240] - Todd
Well, let's think about the perspectives that they all come together at certain times for almost like historic moments. And one of the times that I recall that I'm sure was a memory of your own was the 1983 Dream game, and that's Louisville versus Kentucky. NCAA Middle East Regional down in Knoxville, of all places. And I think it was like the first time in 24 years that the schools have played. It was just such a huge deal in the state of Kentucky. You're at that game, put us in the arena. What was the atmosphere like at that day?
[00:22:20.100] - Jerry
Well, it was surreal. That would be the word I would use, because Louisville had been lobbying publicly for a series start a series in Kentucky, I think. Kentucky, they cited a policy that wouldn't allow them to play Louisville in the regular season. So I asked them for a copy of the policy. I wanted to read it, and I think it was an open records request. I can't remember for sure. But the answer was, well, there's not a written policy. It's a policy with quotation marks, I guess, around it. And I remember, I believe it was CBS interviewed Jovi Hall, I think, during the season, and one of their questions was playing global and he walked away. End of interview. And so it was that touchy of a subject. And so for them to be playing, of course, at the NCAA Tournament, I don't care what, there's no policy there. And they hadn't played since the 59 NCAA Tournament. They played just I remember seeing the two teams. The Governor, as you remember, wore a sport coat that was half blue and half red. So he's staying neutral. And just to see the two teams on the court warming up for the game was unbelievable.
[00:23:43.950] - Jerry
It was like the Israelis and the Palestinians were going to play a basketball game and it just didn't seem like this was possible. So anyway, they play and of course, Louisville wins in overtime and the so called Dream Game. But it was such a great game, a memorable game that the state legislature got involved, as you may remember. And the word got out that they were going to pass a law mandating Kentucky to play Louisville. And so they made an exception in the policy and they played the next season, started a series which continues to this day. And they hadn't played in there. I looked it up and played this in the regular season since 1922. Wow. And so they played in 80 what would that be? 83, 84, 61 years ago. Right. So they played then and it's been great. The fans are always engaged, but they're really engaged for that.
[00:24:51.660] - Todd
But when you're at a game like that, 83 game, Kentucky, Louisville, do you actually feel like you're at more than a basketball game?
[00:24:57.700] - Jerry
Yes. You feel like every once in a while you feel like you're witnessing history. And that was the feeling with that game. That's something that's going to be remembered for a long, long time. And yeah, I felt privileged to be there.
[00:26:29.490] - Jerry
Some of those kind of stories. I don't read I don't read them because I'm afraid I failed to capture the magnitude of what I just saw.
[00:26:41.470] - Todd
Well, you mentioned history and obviously the game that people associated historically with Kentucky, besides the fact that they won all their national championships, they played in what many people consider the greatest college game ever, the 92 Duke game in the Eastern finals of the NCAA Tournament, eastern Regional in Philadelphia. The Laker game, right?
[00:27:04.880] - Jerry
[00:27:07.470] - Todd
When you think about that game, do you remember what your feeling was when the game ended and you had to write?
[00:27:15.870] - Jerry
I was overwhelmed. I felt inadequate to the task. I was just, like, lost. What do I do? And I remember wondering, should I go to the formal press conferences with the coaches? And I guess they brought players, I think they did. Or go to the locker room. And nowadays, I went to the press conference, and it was fine. I mean, it was what it was. But I wish I had gone to the locker room, because I think the emotions were raw, and I think that would have been the place to be, to try to capture the emotional tidal wave that that game was.
[00:27:58.360] - Todd
Why did it feel overwhelming? What was it about it?
[00:28:01.500] - Jerry
It was just the magnitude of it. Duke, I think they were number one, but they were the defending national champion, Kentucky. And I don't think I captured this very well, but this was the pinnacle of a three year rebuilding operation by Rick Patino. He came in 89, 90, as you know, and the program was on probation. No tournament in 90 and 91. And they got good. They had the best record in the SEC as second year, but they were ineligible to win the championship. But 91 92 was their first year back as eligible for the tournament, and they were Kentucky again, Kentucky. Was Kentucky, a contender to win the national championship. They played Duke, the defending champion. The game goes into overtime. They make a shot with 2.1 second left, and of course, you know the rest. But I remember one little thing that I'm proud of is that my seat was near. It was about the top of the key on the end of the court for the inbound pass, and that Grant Hill through, if I remember right. And I noticed that Kentucky did not guard the inbounder. They had two guys on latent.
[00:29:25.690] - Jerry
Unfortunately for Kentucky, they both played behind him, so he had an easy way to catch the ball, and they were both shorter than him, so there wasn't a big chore to turn. Ashburn had filed out. Jamal Ashburn. And so it happened, like, right in my living room, so to speak. And I remember seeing Mike Shashevsky go up to KWOOD Letford. It was KWOOD. Letford's last game. Yeah.
[00:29:51.120] - Todd
Legendary Kentucky announcer.
[00:29:52.490] - Jerry
Yeah, legendary announcer. 39 years, and he was an icon. You talk about an icon. He was an icon. And I remember when Sean Woods made the shot with 2.1 second left, a bank straight in front of the basket, about maybe seven, 8ft. I don't know how often you can do that, you know what I mean? But he did it. And Ralph Hacker was the color man on the radio broadcast of Kentucky. And he was kind of like getting into Celebratory mood. And KWOOD calmed him down and pointed out, the game's not over yet. And of course, then the inbounds the late and he makes the shot. Shashevsky comes to the radio, stand there and says some kind words to Kentucky fans who are listening on the radio, which was nice. And then I remember hearing not live, but hearing about that Kaywood ended his broadcast by quoting the poet John Greenleaf whittier that about the saddest words of pen and tongue. It might have been. And I just thought, man, I wish I could go out. I didn't think of them. But since then, what a classy. Great way to bow out, quoting a poet, right?
[00:31:12.520] - Jerry
Yeah. What a way.
[00:31:13.680] - Todd
Cable was such he was the voice of Kentucky basketball.
[00:31:17.900] - Jerry
He was a pro. He brought an objectivity to it, which I admired. You could sort of tell if Kentucky won. That was good. He liked that. But he was a professional broadcaster at the same time.
[00:31:34.050] - Todd
Right. What do you remember about the game besides the obvious late or shot? Is there just things that as the game unfolded, did you realize you were watching what became known as the greatest game in college?
[00:31:51.250] - Jerry
Not as well as I wish I had. I mean, it was obviously a riveting game and it held your attention and it was rich with storyline possibilities. But my instinct, especially then was, and it continued, was not to overdo it. I tried to stay within certain bounds, and I've second guessed that many times as I've reflected on that game. I wish I had gone overboard. And I remember being it was in Philadelphia, and the next morning at the Philadelphia airport, we're going to fly back and I'm reading like, the Philly paper and they went full tilt on what a historic and I'm kicking myself saying, man, I wish I had gone more towards just let myself be overwhelmed in the story.
[00:32:52.210] - Todd
It's interesting that you still think that all these years later, still thinking about the work that you did.
[00:32:58.990] - Jerry
Well, that's kind of my nature. My last sports editor in Huntington was a guy named Mike Connell, and he was like an assistant city editor. He didn't want to be sports editor, but they made him sports editor. They needed a sports editor. They made him and he covered it as news. And I remember one of the things he said, several things that stuck with me, but one of them was you reach a certain plateau in your development when you could improve your story each. Time you read it. And it took me a long time, probably too long to get to that, but that's kind of my nature. Or was that each time I read it, I could improve it. And the latter game was one that I wish I had reread several times, but it's gone now.
[00:37:23.150] - Todd
Well, lately makes the shot. And you mentioned Rick Patino, and people debate about should you have guarded the inbound? Yeah, we can talk that all night, but the fact of the matter is Ducky's not there without Patino. He rebuilt that program, and that eight years that he was there just struck me, looking back, that he was the right guy at the right place at the right time. Do you agree with that? And why do you think so?
[00:37:51.410] - Jerry
Oh, absolutely. He'd been around the block. He knew what he was doing. He wasn't some guy learning. And I think his personality he could handle being the Kentucky coach.
[00:38:05.990] - Todd
What do you mean by that, Jim?
[00:38:07.410] - Jerry
Well, John Caliper says it's like wearing a big, heavy winter coat all the time, meaning you get noticed wherever you go, you're a celebrity. Billy Gillespie was not comfortable with that, being a celebrity. He just wanted to be a coach. But at Kentucky, you're the coach. Everything you do is subject to being second guessed, as you know, and every double dribble is going to be examined for what went wrong. Why did the coach let that happen? And you have to have a strong personality to do that. And Rick Patino's first year to me, in all of my 41 years stands out because their record was 14 and 14, which by Kentucky standards is awful.
[00:38:54.510] - Todd
[00:38:54.920] - Jerry
And the fans were overjoyed. They were absolutely thrilled. They had fun. It wasn't about conquering the Washington Generals. It was purely about fun.
[00:39:09.710] - Todd
And that's because they were on probation and the program was devastated.
[00:39:16.770] - Jerry
Most of the good players transferred, the better players transferred. And so there was zero expectations, they were nothing. They weren't Kentucky. And the fans loved the style, the running, pressing. There was constant action and the three point shot. So there was a thrill likely to happen again and again and again. And if I remember right, that first year they beat LSU at home and LSU had Chris Jackson, as he was known then, an All SEC player. He might have been Player of the Year. Shaquille O'Neill and Stanley Roberts. They were NCAA tournament winning. It good Kentucky beat them here just because I think their style contributed to that. It was so different back then to shoot so many threes and they weren't going to let it be a half court game where the superior talent prevails. They were going to make it up and down run. And of course they were used to that. That was the way they played. The other teams usually weren't. And that whole season was exceptional. Patino was very entertaining himself in his own way.
[00:40:43.480] - Jerry
Totally different from what Kentucky fans were used to as far as being out there, I think, personality wise. And they just were thrilled, absolutely thrilled. And it was interesting that once he went to the Celtics after he left Kentucky and then he goes to Louisville and he becomes the prime villain he went 180 deg the other way, which is interesting, right.
[00:41:07.970] - Todd
His intensity never seemed to waiver. What was he like to cover as a beat reporter?
[00:41:26.890] - Jerry
Things changed with him because until then, with Joe B. Hall and then Eddie Sutton practices were open to the media. You could go to practices, talk to whoever you wanted to after the game or after the practice as long as they didn't have class or whatever to go to talk to a coach. It was much more informal. I remember with Eddie Sutton one Thanksgiving, I wasn't married yet, I had nothing to do. They practiced three times that day. I went to all three practices just for something to do and maybe I could pick up something, who knows? But with Patino it changed. It became more of a the media was here and the coach and the program were there and the interaction was more controlled at that point. But he was on I remember they did a scrimmage. As I remember, it was the coaches and maybe like people in the program against the media at a high school in Lexington and Rock Oliver guarded me. He was the strength coach. And I remember hearing that whoever Rock Oliver guarded, that was the guy they were going to shut down. Your conclusions.
[00:42:56.330] - Todd
How did you do, Jerry?
[00:42:58.150] - Jerry
I got shut down. I think I maybe took one or two shots and missed them both. And he didn't have to guard me, guard me, but he guarded me. And I wondered I don't remember asking but I wondered if that was a way to kind of introduce the media to the style of play. If I remember right, they pressed and shot threes Toby smith had like 36 points in that, whatever you want to call it. I started to say scrimmage, but that's.
[00:43:30.490] - Todd
Probably no, you guys were the Washington Generals that you talked about.
[00:43:34.000] - Jerry
[00:43:38.950] - Todd
We talked a lot here about the 92 team that brought Kentucky back from the ashes of probation. The centerpiece of that team was Jamal Ashburn. What made Mashburn special?
[00:44:24.910] - Jerry
Well, I remember in my farewell thing I wrote that hearing coaches say the difference between good players and great players is the great player makes his teammates better. And that's what Mashburn was. And I remember the first time I saw him, it was a high school all star game in Louisville, and of course, we knew he was coming to Kentucky. And here's this guy, six eight, and he was a little heavy then. He was too heavy, really. And I bet he was 240 or 250. And you see this big body with guard skills. The way he played was like six foot 180, but in a six 8250 body. So he had both things going, skill and muscle. It wasn't really muscle. And I remember they played a scrimmage, a preseason scrimmage back then. They went around the state and played two or three inner squad scrimmages. And of course, the fans in those areas were really jacked up. They were really excited. And in one of them, it might have been the first one. We talked to Rick Patino afterwards, and he says Jamal Ashburn is going to be, I think he said one of he may have said the best players in Kentucky history.
[00:45:48.360] - Jerry
That gets your attention, that makes you whoa, wait a minute. Did he say what I think he just said? And I think that one of the best would fit. I think, like I said, he really I remember noticing and going into a second year, his body was sculpted now and he was a different person. I think that was 91, 92. The lightner. Yes, that was the lightner year. And he still was big, six eight, and he could still do things that big guys could do.
[00:46:25.930] - Todd
Well, Rock Oliver had to give up time from shutting you down to go work with Mashburn.
[00:46:31.750] - Jerry
Yeah, that was quite a sacrifice for a rock. But he was a nice guy. He didn't seem to be consumed with his celebrity. And I remember it was before a game, either a second or third year at home game, and they mispronounced his name. And I happened to the PA guy, and I happened to be, like, standing near him, and he just kind of smiled. It wasn't like, hey, I'm Jamal Mashburn. You got to get my name right. I was impressed by that.
[00:47:06.620] - Todd
Well, it says a lot about him and his talent and his personality. you covered so many great players, but are there ones that you just enjoyed either covering or watching play?
[00:47:46.190] - Jerry
Well, there's all sorts of, you know, we could take up the whole show just talking about players that made a lasting memory. Another guy that comes to mind for me is Tyler EULAs, and he was five eight, I think, and it's kind of a David and Goliath kind of storyline, and he was just so smart. And that appeals to me. The power and all of that. I get it. It's part of the game. The athleticism. I get it. It's part of the game, and it's valuable. But intelligence is something that appeals to me. A smart player. And I remember they went to the Bahamas the summer before his freshman year played. I think it was six exhibition games in eight days. And everyone, including me, was exhausted because it was just like just being away for eight or nine days would be consuming. But they played six games, and I remember noticing he was the smartest player on the court. This is a freshman that hasn't played a college game yet, and he was like a point guard, and he would take the outlet pass, would come to him, and again and again. He would, like, almost throw touch passes down the court to a teammate for a fast break layout.
[00:49:10.730] - Jerry
He saw the whole court. He knew where everyone was a freshman. I was just really blown away by this. John California's had a lot of great point cards, but if you compare the numbers of each one, john Wall trying to remember them all. Ash and Hagens, Brandon Knight. All sorts of guys. Eula's numbers dwarf all of them. It's not even close. And I just loved watching him play. And the other thing that jumped out at me was like, of course the other teams would try to post him up because he was only five eight and thin and he wasn't having it. He was contesting for that spot at the post. You weren't going to just get it and just post him up. He was going to make you work to get the spot on the post you wanted. Right.
There was all sorts of guys. I mean, Kenny Walker. Sam Bue. My first two years on the beat were the two years Sambui sat out. He had a stress fracture excuse me, in his lower leg, I think left leg. And of course, I was aware that Sambui was really good, seven footer or close to it. And I remember he didn't play at all. And then the second year they had a practice and he practiced and I want in a scrimmage kind of thing. And I wanted to see him I mean, I've been hearing about writing about this guy that's not playing. I wanted to see him play in person. And he was the best player on the floor and he hadn't played in a year and a half or whatever it was, and he still wasn't able to play in games. He didn't play in the game that season, but he played in this one scrimmage, best player on the court. And I wonder maybe they would have won a national championship in either my first or second year or both if he had been playing.
[00:51:31.390] - Todd
Well, let's blame you for not winning. You guys, the bowling rider from West.
[00:51:36.230] - Jerry
Virginia, I don't want to say who, but another, let's say, media person was mocking me. And that's what he said. He said that I used to be a bowling writer. And I thought, yeah, I was set.
[00:51:55.210] - Todd
Emotion, I'll knock them down.
[00:51:57.040] - Jerry
There's no shame in that. I know what a 710 split is.
[00:52:01.550] - Todd
Okay, well, you mentioned several of the coaches and you covered six of them. The first one was Joe Hall. And when you think about how Patino and John Calipari are, they're just so out there, big personalities. And that's kind of what I think of as Kentucky basketball in this era of the last 30 years. But Joe Hall was a much different type of character. Right.
[00:52:39.300] - Jerry
Well, the first thing to think of is that he was from Kentucky and he grew up in Santa, I remember. Right. Which is about maybe an hour north of Lexington. And he was a Kentucky fan. The way we talk about kentucky fans being consumed with Kentucky basketball. That was Joe B. Hall. He cared to the max, and so now he's the coach. He's getting secondguess. There's all this pressure. And among the people second guessing him was Adolf Rup. Adolf Rup, the icon. And so any second guessing he does hits home. This is like God second guessing you.
[00:53:26.550] - Todd
Rough retired, and they made him retirement, like, 72, I think. And he kept an office down the hall from June.
[00:53:32.100] - Jerry
Kept in office, and he kept doing I don't know if it was radio or TV show, weekly TV show. And on the show, he second guessed Joe B. Hall. I wasn't here then. This is what I've been told by people that knew that were here. I think, as you would agree, it's hard enough following a legend as the coach, but to have the legend guessing you publicly, from what I'm told, the Kentucky fandom was split. There were some people that thought Rough was not treated fairly and he should still be the coach. And there were some people that were rooting for Joby Hall and wanted Joey Hall to succeed because he was the Kentucky coach. By the time I came in, coach Adolf Rob had died, so that part had subsided.
[00:54:52.710] - Jerry
But the second guessing and all of that was still part of it. So any objectivity would almost be a sin. Kentucky, as you know, Kentucky basketball is an exception to objectivity. That's for everything else. Okay? But Kentucky basketball is so magnificent that if you're objective, then you don't care, right?
[00:55:23.590] - Todd
Joe hall sees you as a big sinner. Was it a day to day battle with Jody?
[00:55:37.040] - Jerry
Well, I wouldn't say day to day, but there were times it wasn't unusual for there, and we had much more access then, so there was much more of an opportunity for the coach to vent, shall we say, that happened. And I remember well, now, that doesn't matter.
[00:55:58.420] - Todd
Yeah, it does. Come on.
[00:56:00.260] - Jerry
Okay. There was one time they were practicing because we got to go to the BD, got to go to practice. I don't remember who they were playing, but they were working on a box and one defense. So there was one guy on the other team they wanted to contain. And I remember the Sid person came over to us and basically asked us not to report that they worked on the box and one, which I didn't. And as far as I know no one did. To me, it was like war plans. No, that's too far. You want to report the news, but not war plans. So maybe I scored a few points there. I doubt it. He called me DA. And not from the start, but it came to and I was wondering I naively thought, maybe he's saying district attorney, but after some time and reflection, I think he was saying dumbass.
[00:57:02.630] - Todd
Well, you guys almost came to blows a couple of times, right?
[00:57:06.430] - Jerry
Yeah, there was a couple of times where I wondered if the fight wasn't going to last long. It wouldn't take him long to beat me up. One punch and I would be crying for mother. But, yeah, one of them had to do with the 84 NCAA Tournament. I believe it was the first and second round. It may have been the Sweet 16. Delete. Eight was in Lexington, and the four teams were Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland and Illinois. And I had the bright idea, sarcasm alert, that maybe I could do something on Joby Hall and Lefty drizzle two coaches who accomplished a lot, yet didn't have there wasn't universal respect. And I'm not saying that's right or wrong. I just thought it was interesting that they had both a lot of success yet. So I approached both of them, and neither one of them warmed up to that idea and Lefty just sort of dismissed me and Joe B. There were some other people around, not media people, but just people people. And I don't remember what he said, but it was a put down and I thought a little over the line. So I told him, hey, don't say that.
[00:58:32.130] - Jerry
He objected to me having the gall to try to I wouldn't call it scold him, but correct him. And he kind of said something to the effect of, what are you going to do about it? And what am I going to do about it? Nothing. I'm just going to take it. But, yeah, that one stands out in my mind.
[00:58:57.740] - Todd
Yeah, but years later, when Joe was in retirement and he passed away in January, God rest his soul, you and Joe would go to lunch, right?
[00:59:19.970] - Jerry
I was told by people that had been around longer than me, somebody like Billy Reed, a columnist at the Courier and at the Herald Leader at different times, that Joby was a different person. When he was the assistant coach, he was friendly, jovial, smiling. You really had to, like, outgoing. You had to really like him. Then when he became coach, the head coach, he became a different person. Much more uptight, much more defensive, that sort of thing, because he was under a lot of pressure. And then after he retired, he kind of reverted back to the more friendly jovial. And one year with John Caliperi, he was coaching the Dominican National team in a summer thing, and he had something in something going on downtown Lexington. They had a blue carpet outside this restaurant, and people came, and the media could talk to them on their way into this thing, and Joe B was one of them, and he was the friendly jovial, laughing, kidding, everything was great.
[01:00:39.400] - Jerry
And one of the younger media people turned to me and said, was Joe be like that when he was the coach? And I said, no, he was not. But I talked to him. I did his old bit. It was 100 inches. And I talked to him maybe three years before he passed away and told him what I was doing. And we met, we talked. It went really well. I wrote 100 inches, which is the longest story I've ever written, and I was pretty happy with it, to be honest. I think I hit it right. But at one of the lunches, he asked me, do you realize that someday you're going to have to meet your maker and you're going to have to explain some of those stories you did? So I kind of smiled. I just thought it was funny, and I didn't think anything about it. Well, a few minutes later, he said it again and again. Now I'm thinking, I think he wants a response. And then about the third time, he says, like, hey, I want an answer.
[01:01:59.920] - Jerry
He didn't say those words, and he said, someday you're going to meet your maker, and you'll have to explain those stories. So I said, Well, Joe, do you realize that maybe God has a special place for sports rams? And he said, he does.
[01:02:22.550] - Todd
I like the thumbs down. He won't even say, Hell, I'll just point you down.
[01:02:26.560] - Jerry
He wanted to make sure I got the message.
[01:02:29.810] - Todd
That's pretty funny.
[01:02:31.490] - Jerry
Yeah, I liked it. It was what it was.
[01:02:36.300] - Todd
Well, one of the things I always admired about you, many things I admired about you, Jerry, but you're unafraid to ask the tough questions, always objective, always there, trying to get more. And even when things got heated for you, whether it was the fans or the coaches or the officials, whoever, you're always able to shake it off with a sense of humor.
[01:03:14.280] - Jerry
Well, I don't know who said this, but I fully believe it, that laughter and humor is a coping device and it's a way to deal with the pressure and so on. And I remember a journalism professor back at Marshall when I was a student saying that if the story is about the reporter, that's not good, and I didn't really understand what that meant, but over time I got it, and so I tried to keep myself out of it as much as possible. You say ask tough questions. I didn't think about it in terms of I'm going to ask a tough question. I just thought about as asking a pointed question or a pertinent question beyond ideally I would rather have a conversation and we would just talk, but that's part of it. You ask questions, and so I just tried to ask good questions. I wasn't thinking of them as, I'm backing you up against the wall, buddy. I thought that would be injecting myself into it, which I didn't want to do.
[01:04:27.470] - Todd
Right, well, then your sense of humor could bond with somebody like how Apara, who also seems to have a sense of humor, right?
[01:04:33.750] - Jerry
Absolutely. Yeah. I think maybe that's a coping device, too, could very well be.
[01:04:41.210] - Todd
Well, everybody needs a coping device. You're dealing with the pressure and the intense heat of Kentucky basketball, and nobody from a reporter standpoint did it as well as you did, Jerry, and I really count my blessings. In all honesty, you had a really big impact on my life as a college student. It really opened my eyes to doing what I wanted to do, but doing it in a way that I learned how was the right way to do, and that was to be objective and to be a reporter and not a fan.
appreciate you saying that. I just think being objective leads to better stories. To me, that's okay. There's a place for that, certainly for the fans, and I want them to be fans. That year with COVID, where there weren't as many fans in the stands, that wasn't much fun. I would rather they be there and scream, and if they want to yell at me, that's fine, which they don't. I can't think of hardly any instances of that. But I just think as I tell people when I'm asking questions, I'm thinking, what question might a reader have? As I'm doing this story. The coach says X. I'm thinking, well, if I'm a reader, I want to know. Maybe I want to put X in perspective. Or there's an obvious hypothetical question that comes. To mind dealing with X. The point is to try to do a better story. It's not to hope Kentucky loses or anything like that. My rooting interest from the start have been proteins. That's where I was emotionally involved. But as you know, especially now with social media and the Internet, you're constantly on deadline. There's no time for the routing.
[01:06:57.470] - Jerry
The only thing I'm rooting for is a good storyline to come to mind that I can.
[01:07:40.070] - Todd
Well, we certainly enjoyed having you on the show, Gerry. It's been a lot of fun on. Once again, I thank you for your friendship and your guidance, your wisdom. You took me under your wing at a young age, and so many years I thought, what would Jerry do here? What would Jerry ask?
[01:08:04.910] - Jerry
Well, that's a high compliment. And I have my sports writing heroes too, and you've had several of them on your show, so that was enriching for me.
[01:08:17.430] - Todd
Well, thanks a lot, Jerry. I really appreciate it, and I wish you the best in retirement. Now go hit the couch or run some errands for your wonderful wife Paula.
[01:08:27.990] - Jerry
Definitely do that. All right.
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