Once Bitter Rivals, Ky. Basketball Coaches Now Share The Mic

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This Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals will square off in men's college basketball. It's one of the game's most intense rivalries. The Cardinals are the defending national champions. Kentucky won the title the previous year after defeating Louisville in the Final Four. The teams' modern rivalry dates back 30 years, when Louisville was coached by Denny Crum and Joe B. Hall was at the helm at Kentucky. The two Hall of Fame coaches, once fierce competitors, are now on the same team, hosting a popular radio show.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

And this Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals will square off in men's college basketball. It is one of the game's most intense rivalries. The Cardinals are the defending national champions but Kentucky won the title the previous year after beating Louisville in the Final Four. The teams' modern rivalry dates back 30 years to when Louisville was coached by Denny Crum and Joe B. Hall ran things at Kentucky. Today, the two Hall of Fame coaches, once fierce competitors, are on the same team, hosting a popular radio show. Rick Howlett of member station WFPL has their story.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome to "The Joe B. and Denny Show" on 790 KRD.

RICK HOWLETT, BYLINE: "The Joe B. and Denny Show" is not typical sports radio. It's more like a visit to a neighborhood diner. The conversation is friendly. It can meander in any direction and often turns to food.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE JOE B. AND DENNY SHOW")

JOE B. HALL: I got the fish tacos.

DENNY CRUM: Aren't they good?

HALL: Oh, God. I couldn't eat them all.

HOWLETT: The guests run the gamut from local figures to ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who talked about Kentucky's early season basketball struggles on a recent show.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE JOE B. AND DENNY SHOW")

JAY BILAS: We made a joke about this the other day. Dick Vitale said, well, you know, the Kentucky fans just have to be patient. And I said, I'm not sure that word is in the Commonwealth dictionary.

HALL: No, it isn't.

BILAS: Everybody wants to win now.

CRUM: Yeah, it probably isn't.

HOWLETT: For two hours each weekday morning, 85-year-old Joe B. Hall and 76-year-old Denny Crum talk sports and whatever else comes to mind. Their specialty is college basketball. Both were courtside for some of the game's biggest changes, like the three-point shot. Hall recalls his frustration when some teams would play a stall offense, a tactic that led to the introduction of the shot clock.

HALL: Kind of like saying, we can't play with you in an up-and-down type of game. We've got to hold the ball.

HOWLETT: The idea for "The Joe B. and Denny Show" came from a friend of Hall's, who had heard a similar program in Alabama. Crum was quick to get on board a decade ago.

CRUM: It's a big commitment. It's killed my golf game but it's been great anyway.

HOWLETT: The head coaching careers of Hall at Kentucky and Crum in Louisville overlapped for 13 seasons. Their rivalry was intense, especially on the recruiting trail but Hall says it never got personal.

HALL: Whenever Denny and I would get together at the NCAA or run into each other at a restaurant, our talk wasn't basketball. It was fishing or duck hunting.

HOWLETT: The Kentucky-Louisville series began a century ago but was dormant for decades. As Crum brought Louisville into national prominence, Hall resisted playing the Cardinals, saying it would be unfair to other in-state schools. Some in the Louisville camp saw that as disrespect. Then in 1983, the teams met in the NCAA tournament, their first match-up in 24 years. It was dubbed the Dream Game.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPORTSCAST)

GARY BENDER: Two legendary traditions coming now to center court. The issue of the state of Kentucky is going to be decided.

HOWLETT: Denny Crum's Cardinals won the Dream Game by 12 points in overtime.

CRUM: Rivalries are really good for basketball or for football. I mean, if you don't have any big rivals, why your season is kind of blase.

HOWLETT: Kentucky and Louisville resumed their annual series the following season. Sometimes, Denny Crum and Joe Hall sit together in the stands when the teams play in December - Crum in his Cardinal red blazer, Hall dressed in Wildcat blue.

HALL: I think it's a demonstration that friendship goes beyond sports competition, that you don't have to hate somebody just because you compete with them.

HOWLETT: Hall and Crum say their shared respect and admiration carried over to their players. Just like the coaches, many of the former on-court rivals are now close friends. For NPR News, I'm Rick Howlett in Louisville.

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