Imagine growing up in Lexington with the last name of Rupp. In a state that loves basketball, that’s a name almost any fan regardless of age would recognize because of the legendary coaching career Adolph Rupp had at Kentucky from 1930-1972 when he won 876 games and four national titles.
It’s no surprise that Anna Rupp, the great-granddaughter of Adolph Rupp, admits she’s always been a Kentucky fan. Her grandfather, Herky Rupp, hit the ceremonial first shot at Memorial Coliseum when it opened and in 1976 her father, Chip, did the same thing at the first UK practice in Rupp Arena.
“It’s just in my blood. Kentucky athletics are so important to Lexington and the commonwealth. To have family connections and ties is really exciting. I truly bleed blue and always have,” Anna Rupp said.
She’ll be an official part of the UK athletics family next year when she joins the Kentucky track and cross country programs. She is now at IMG Academy in Florida after spending three years at Lexington Christian Academy.
“I definitely heard a lot of stories about him (Adolph Rupp). It’s pretty cool the way his legacy lives on,” she said. “I read about him and his coaching career. I have never watched any film of him coaching, but I need to change that.”
She said a collegiate — or even high school — basketball career was never a possibility for her because her “hand-eye coordination is not all there” like it must be for basketball players.
“From playing in the backyard and driveway, I knew basketball was out of the picture,” she laughed and said. “I got into running. I was a very energetic kid. I had energy I couldn’t contain. I also rode horses competitively when I was younger. I had to be doing something.”
She actually joined the track team in sixth grade so she “could jump like my horse did” and run hurdles. Her coaches quickly told her she was too small for hurdles and she got into distance running.
“I never looked back. Every run is a gift,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without running.”
She won consecutive Class A cross country state titles in 2018 and 2019 and also won the 3,200-meter Class A track title in 2019. COVID wiped out the 2020 track season her sophomore year. At the 2019 cross country state meet, she didn’t finish the event because of an injury and then was injured for all but one meet her junior track season.
So how did she end up at IMG Academy for her senior year?
“My reason for going to IMG was to experience something completely new. I had gone to school in Lexington my entire life and I thought going to boarding school would help me develop more independence. I wanted a new experience, especially in the Sunshine State,” she said. “They are known for their athletics but it was honestly just more for life itself than sports.”
It was not easy for her parents to say goodbye to their 17-year-old daughter. Her father, Chip, was an easier sell than her mother.
“I don’t think she was expecting me to go through with it, but she has been amazing. My parents both have been very supportive,” Rupp said. “It was an adjustment. I miss my friends every day but I have new friends and amazing coaches here. Coming to IMG was the best decision for me. I have matured in many ways and overall I am more prepared for college because I had to learn to do things on my own.”
She verbally committed to Kentucky in October when she came home for a visit and spent time with Hakon Devries, who coaches UK’s distance runners. She focused on what he told her about training, not on her family’s history with UK.
Rupp only told a few people about her commitment and didn’t make it public until early January.
Why such a secret?
“I didn’t have any pictures to post yet (on social media). No material to really put out there,” she joked. “I wanted to wait and make sure what I posted and put out there was meaningful and well thought out. It was not a secret about what I was going to do if someone asked, but I just didn’t tell unless they asked.
“It was hard to keep quiet because I was so excited to know I would represent the Wildcats running cross country and track. No one bleeds blue more than me. When I put the Kentucky jersey on, it just felt normal.”
What hasn’t felt normal is the stress reaction she’s been battling for a while. She had one during the summer and thought it healed only to have another one come back on the same bone. She’s training again and hopes to be able to race before the track season ends.
“I was hoping for a full recovery by this point, but it’s better to be safe than sorry with bone injuries,” she said. “I just want to get healthy and back running and I can’t wait to get to UK. It’s an honor to know I will wear Kentucky across my chest.”
Wheeler’s return big for Wildcats
Sahvir Wheeler was a Bob Cousy Award finalist for the nation’s best point guard, second team all-SEC selection by the league’s coaches and media, and third overall in the nation — first in the SEC — with 6.9 assists per game.
“Cal is all in on him (for next year),” UK Radio Network analyst Mike Pratt said.
Calipari was on Sports Talk with Dan Issel and Mike Pratt on Louisville radio last week and definitely made it clear he was ready to let Wheeler run his team next season.
“Let me say this: Most of this stuff is a small group but they were on Sahvir because of that last game (in the NCAA Tournament against Saint Peter’s). Do you remember Sahvir against North Carolina? And against Kansas, how he played?” Calipari asked Pratt and Issel.
Against national champion Kansas, he had eight assists, seven points, three rebounds and one 3-pointer in 34 minutes in an 18-point UK win. In the victory over national runner-up North Carolina, he had a season-high 26 points on 12-for-15 shooting, eight assists, four steals and three rebounds in 32 minutes during a 28-point win.
Overall, he averaged 10.1 and 2.6 rebounds per game along with his assists and shot 44% overall from the field and 78% at the foul line. He did have a team-high 91 turnovers and was just 16 of 52 from 3-point range.
“He had a hell of a year until he got injured and then he gained some weight. He didn't play as well (after his injury) but he's still that guy. And I told him, 'If I can get you right and get you steady in who you are and keep improving, because he's improved, I said, 'You're the difference in this stuff,’” Calipari said.
Wheeler transferred to UK from Georgia last season and announced on social media last week that he would be back at UK for the 2022-23 season.
“Calipari is trying to build the kid’s confidence up. He is a solid point guard, not great, but solid,” Pratt said. “He’s good enough to win if you put the right people around him.
“As a teammate, you know he will pass to you. That’s important. If he gets his game under control like he did before he got hurt, you have a really good point guard and can let the freshman (Cason Wallace) mature as the season goes on.”
Wheeler had 207 assists last season — fourth most in a single season at UK.
Monk had breakout season
He was not an all-star and his team did not even make the playoffs, but former UK star Malik Monk had a potential career-saving season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Even though LA went only 33-49, Monk averaged a career-high 13.8 points per game (third best on the team), 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists in the 76 games he played. He also led the Lakers in 3-pointers and was second in total minutes played.
Monk, 24, was the team leader in 3-pointers, second in total minutes and third in total points.
It was an important season since he’s now a free agent. He made the NBA minimum $1.8 million last season but is in position to make a lot more now. The Lakers could offer up to a $6.2 million one-year deal while speculation is that he could land a multi-year deal at $5 to $10 million per year.
He was the 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft by Charlotte. He played four years with the Hornets and averaged 11.7 points — his career high at the time — in 42 games during the 2020-21 season but never shot over 43% overall from the field. This season he shot 47.3% and his assists and rebounds were also career highs.
Monk told LakersNation.com that he appreciated the Lakers giving him a chance this year and he felt comfortable with that team.
“The money matters, but I know what I can do on the court and I can go out there and earn that. I think I proved that,” Monk told LakersNation.com. “This was the only organization that called me and gave me a chance to prove that I’m a basketball player that deserves to be in the NBA. I love playing here under this atmosphere and of course would love to come back.”
Kentucky fans have directed a lot of criticism at coach John Calipari since UK’s stunning NCAA Tournament first-round loss to Saint Peter’s.
Former Kentucky point guard Roger Harden played for Joe Hall and then Eddie Sutton.
“I never heard coach Hall complain about criticism. He never complained publicly or ever lashed out at fans no matter what,” Harden said. “His philosophy was that our fans were right. We never argued with them. Coach Hall felt fans were right.”
Harden also remembers his sophomore season when he was criticized by UK fans and even booed during games at Rupp Arena. Hall talked to Harden about the fan criticism.
“He said, ‘Roger, you can’t take it personal,’” Harden recalled. “Then he said, ‘And Roger I actually agree with our fans. I am sure you wish I would let you and the other guards shoot the ball more. But you can’t take it (fan criticism) personally. You perform and they come around and you will come out of games to standing ovations.’”
Was Hall right?
“He absolutely was right. When I played well and got more consistent, the fans were all behind me,” Harden said.
UK’s NBA players impress recruits
Kentucky didn’t make the NCAA Tournament in 2021. Kentucky lost in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament to Saint Peter’s. However, apparently that has not damaged UK’s perception with big-time recruits as much as some Kentucky fans believe.
“You have to remember that coach Cal gets players to the NBA,” said Yahoo.com/Rivals.com basketball writer Krysten Peek. “All five-star recruits want to make the NBA and want to do so as quickly as possible.
“They see coach Cal as a coach who gets players there and has had a lot of success doing it. It (recent NCAA Tournament issues) has not hurt recruiting. Kentucky still has national TV, plays in a competitive conference and has coach Cal.”
Peek says recruits watch what Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, Tyrese Maxey and other former UK players are doing in the NBA.
“Recruits pay attention to players if they are successful in the NBA and take note of that. That’s where they are interested in playing,” Peek said. “Now I do think what has happened puts more pressure on coach Cal and his staff to do something with the group they have coming in. If that does not happen, next year’s recruiting could be more of a valid concern.”
Quotes of the Week
No. 1: “I asked God, you have brought me, I became the national player of the year. I always wanted to be a lottery pick, top 10, top 15 … I asked God, why am I not there yet? God has told me, he’s not done with me yet. He told me he wanted me to go back to just work because it's not done with me in this place yet. I’ll be back again. So, I’ll be here next year at Kentucky. I’ll be in the blue in Kentucky next year again,” Oscar Tshiebwe announcing on ESPN he would return to UK for another season.
No. 2: “He has been in and out. I wish I had more time with him but I will in the summer. What I saw from him last (preseason) camp and this spring, he has shown flashes that he can really make big plays,” Kentucky quarterback Will Levis on freshman receiver Dekel Crowdus,
No. 3: “There are not many legit 6-2, 300-pound players like him. He has good functional mobility. He moves like he’s 250 or 260. He’s got some improving to do but he has a lot of potential. I am not shocked he is getting these offers,” Frederick Douglass High School Nathan McPeek on defensive lineman Jamarrion Harkless having offers from Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Auburn and more.