Joe B. Hall’s Kentucky dream

Joe B. Hall looks at his dog Penny, a golden doodle, in the living room of his home in Lexington, Kentucky on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. Penny’s full name is Luckypenny, which is “ironic,” Hall said, because Coach Adolph Rupp was always looking for a lucky penny. Penny is almost two years old, and she’s been Hall’s “partner” since she was five months old. Penny likes to watch National Geographic and jump at the television screen when something excites her. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

The first game that Joe B. Hall ever coached was not played on a basketball court. It was on a football field.

A few years out of college, he had just been hired as a coach at Shepherdsville High School. He was told he’d be the head basketball and baseball coach, as well as assistant football coach.

One week before the first game of the season, he found out he was actually head coach of football, too.

So on opening night, he and his 18 players took the field against Elizabethtown, which dressed 108 players. They got beat.

“Well, we got our revenge in basketball,” Hall said. “We beat them twice that year.”

Though Hall has played and coached several sports, he said he “gravitated toward basketball.”

He didn’t have to gravitate toward Kentucky, though; Kentucky was always “in his makeup.”

Born in Cynthiana in 1928, Hall grew up following Kentucky basketball and dreaming of playing there—and he got to.

“I had the opportunity to go onto the floor with Kentucky on my chest, come out of the portal in the old Alumni Gym, with the band playing ‘On On U of K,’” he said. “Kentucky was deep in my heart.”

Hall did leave the Commonwealth for a while— the first time to play basketball at Sewanee; the second to coach at Regis College, then at Central Missouri.

Then Kentucky Head Coach Adolph Rupp called with an offer to come home. The first time, Hall said no.

Rupp had offered Hall a job as his recruiter, but Hall wanted to be a floor coach.

Later on, Hall and Rupp were at the same clinic. Rupp invited Hall to his room and offered him an on-the-floor assistant coaching job. This time, Hall took it.

“To be back here as an assistant was a dream,” he said.

Only one more time did he almost leave Kentucky. Rupp’s retirement was approaching, and Hall wasn’t getting the support he wanted to succeed Rupp as head coach. So he took a head coaching job at St. Louis, but Rupp begged him to stay.

“I got to have you,” Hall said Rupp told him.

So Hall went back to St. Louis with an attorney to try to get out of his contract. He did.

“So I came back to Kentucky,” Hall said.

He’s really never left.

Though Hall retired from coaching Kentucky in 1985, he hasn’t lost his status as a central part of the program.

He attends about three of UK’s practices a week. He sits courtside at games in Rupp Arena— and his statue permanently sits in front of Wildcat Lodge, where the men’s basketball players live. His mural keeps watch over his hometown of Cynthiana.

He has a good relationship with current head coach John Calipari and has been the ‘Y’ at basketball games probably more times than anyone else.

He’s recognized and greeted by fans all the time— whether at Immanuel Baptist Church, where he eats lunch with his friends nicknamed “The Lunch Bunch,” or while grabbing a piece of pie at Biancke’s in Cynthiana.

It all goes back to the Kentucky basketball program.

“I had such a dream existence in Kentucky basketball,” he said.

And since he first started as a player in 1948, Hall has never really woken up from that dream.