Former University of Kentucky coach Joe Hall led the Wildcats to the 1978 national championship and has watched many talented teams play during his time as a player, coach and fan. He thinks John Calipari's team that just won the national title is as good as any UK?team he's seen play and actually compares the 2012 Wildcat to two legendary UK teams — Rupp's Runts and the Fabulous Five.
"This team was one of the most entertaining teams I have ever witnessed," said Hall Sunday. "They were just super and so much fun to watch. They could handle the ball like Rupp's Runts. The moved the ball that way. They ran the fast break like the Fabulous Five. They were that much more talented than opponents just like the Fab Five. They were just better. Rupp's Runts were the same way.
"But this team with the talent of Anthony Davis and hustle of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and clutch play of Darius Miller was something. You could just go on and on. Just an unusual, hard working group. We are going to miss these kids more than any past team. They had such a great demeanor on the floor and took coaching so well."
Rupp's Runts — finished the 1965-66 season with a 27-2 record and lost in the NCAA championship game to Texas Western 72-65. The Fabulous Five won the 1948 national championship with a 36-3 record and all five starters — Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, Wah Wah Jones, Cliff Barker and Kenny Rollins — along with coach Adolph Rupp also won the gold medal at the Summer Olympics that same year. In 1949, UK won the national title again with the same starters except for Rollins.
Hall knows Calipari's faces different challenges now than he did after he won his title or Rupp won any of his championships.
"Winning a championship takes a little drive away from you for a while, but you get it right back when you get on the floor with your players," Hall said. "The situation with John is that he's had to teach the same way the last three or four years with the one-and-done (players). He has developed a style that is really effective. He just has to follow his past plans and he will come back with the same kind of pressure.
"He has another No. 1 recruiting class. He is used to going through all that re-training every year. This year it was easier because he had Miller, (Terrence) Jones and (Doron) Lamb that had been through it. He comes back next year with (Kyle) Wiltjer and the transfer (point guard Ryan Harrow) and that's about all he's got. He's really got his work cut out. But he has a knack for rising to the occasion.
"He will go into the season with a top three or four team being predicted. Maybe they will be better at the end of the year and compete for the Final Four. He is accustomed to that kind of pressure. The pressure is already on and he doesn't even yet know where all the pieces will fit in the puzzle. Last year he had a good idea how things would shape up.?Next year he won't. He has a little bit of the pressure of opportunity, but that will be dampened some because of all the green (inexperienced players). But he will respond to that on his own merit. He knows last year is gone."
Hall dealt with some high profile talent in his tenure at UK. That gives him an even greater appreciation for how Calipari recruits big-time players and gets them to buy into a team-first mentality.
"Cal's players are intelligent enough to do what he says. They take coaching," Hall said. "You find players that buck that, but Cal has a way to bring them around. He did a great job with (Demarcus) Cousins. There's just no place for a hot dog or selfish player. They are not going to make it with Cal. Cal quickly recognizes the attitudes of players and gets them straightened out and does it in a hurry. You see that happen in the first two weeks of practice every year. Kids taking 20 shots a game in high school, they don't do that here. He can sell that to a super star like Davis. He has got the system to handle the one-and-done. A lof of coaches don't know how to do that. You've got to be a special coach to do that year after year."
Hall thinks Calipari was also "special" for taking the national championship trophy to various cities in eastern and Western Kentucky last week. Hall was part of the tour on Friday (he couldn't go on Thursday because of a scheduling conflict).
"I was absolutely amazed that the people would turn out in those numbers," Hall said. "They were so enthusiastic and excited. Cal did a great thing. He let them all come up 20 to 25 at a time and have their picture with him, his wife, some assistant coaches and the trophy. People were just wanting to touch the trophy and feel a part of it. To not have any players and have that response just to see the trophy was absolutely amazing."