LEXINGTON, Ky. — Joe B. Hall took on the steep challenge of following a legend and created his own successful legacy.
Hall, who succeeded Adolph Rupp and guided the University of Kentucky men's basketball program to a national championship in 1978, has died. He was 93.
The program announced Hall's death in a social media post Saturday morning after the coach's family notified current Wildcats coach John Calipari. Hall and Calipari were close, and Hall was a a frequent presence at Kentucky practices and games. The retired coach would sometimes provide the "Y" when cheerleaders spelled out the state name during timeouts.
Calipari, who led Kentucky to the program's eighth national title in 2012, called Hall "my friend, my mentor and an icon in our state and in our profession" in a series of tweets. He said he visited Hall this past week and added that the coach squeezed his hand tightly as Calipari prayed for him.
A moment of silence was held for Hall in Rupp Arena before No. 18 Kentucky faced 22nd-ranked rival Tennessee on Saturday. Spectators applauded during a video tribute that included interviews with the coach before fading to black with the words "Joe B. Hall Forever a Wildcat."
Hall went 297-100 in 13 years with Kentucky. Born 20 miles north of the Lexington campus in Cynthiana, the former player and longtime assistant to Rupp assumed the monumental task of succeeding his boss in 1972 after Rupp was forced to retire because he turned 70.
The Wildcats were 20-8 in Hall's first season but followed that with a 13-13 campaign, their worst record in 50 years. He eventually guided them back to national prominence and college basketball's pinnacle six years later.
Led by Kevin Grevey, Jimmy Dan Conner and Rick Robey, Kentucky reached the Final Four in 1975, its first semifinal appearance since 1966. The Wildcats lost the championship game 92-85 to UCLA in coach John Wooden's final game with the Bruins.
Three years later, Hall and Kentucky earned another banner to hang from the rafters of Rupp Arena, which was named after the longtime coach and opened in 1976.
The Wildcats went 30-2 and won their first NCAA title in 20 years, beating Duke 94-88 in St. Louis behind 41 points from Jack "Goose" Givens. It was Kentucky's fifth championship overall but first in 20 years. More than 10,000 fans greeted the returning team at Blue Grass Airport.
The program also reached the Final Four in 1984, losing to Georgetown in the national semifinals. Hall retired a year later at age 57.
Tough as it was to succeed Rupp — who won 876 games in 41 years as Kentucky's coach — Hall said following the example set by the "Baron of the Bluegrass" made it possible.
"I fell in love with the Kentucky program before I came here as a student and played under Coach Rupp, came back and assisted him for seven years," Hall told The Associated Press in 2017. "I was infused with a spirit that made some players work harder. And I think it made me work harder."
Hall coached 24 players who were drafted into the NBA, including five first-round selections. He was named the national coach of the year in 1978 and Southeastern Conference coach of the year four times. Seven of his players earned All-America honors 11 times.
During Saturday's pregame radio show, Givens described Hall as tough and demanding. But the former All-American added that his coach "had a tremendous ability to find the right button and get the most out of everybody. And that's what he did for me as a player."
The bespectacled coach who wore a bright checkered sport coat on the sidelines is immortalized with a statue outside the players' dormitory that depicts him sitting on a folding chair with a tight grip on a game program.
Calipari squeezed a rolled-up program on Saturday to honor his mentor, and the Wildcats opened against the Volunteers in Hall's trademark 1-3-1 defense.
Hall's homespun manner and Southern drawl were on display for several years during a daily morning radio show he hosted with rival and former Louisville coach Denny Crum. The men often discussed their love of fishing, hunting and, of course, basketball. Though they needled each other about the intense Bluegrass rivalry, there was also mutual respect and admiration of each other's successes and particularly the struggles to build their programs.
Hall played for Rupp and the Wildcats briefly in the 1940s before transferring to Sewanee. He toured Europe with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1951, returned to the University of Kentucky and graduated in 1955.
His coaching career began at Shepherdsville High School in 1956. He went on to coach at Regis College in Denver, going 57-50 over five seasons, and at Central Missouri State, where he went 19-6 in 1965. Rupp hired Hall as an assistant in July of that year.