Keeping The Campfires Burning ... Part III

Jerry Sullivan, a native of Ashland,
WI, was a pioneer for youth
camps in the state.
(Getty Images)

March 6, 2007
by Truman Reed / special to Bucks.com

The Milwaukee Bucks Basketball Camps were on the cutting edge of their industry back in the 1960s and '70s, because the camp concept was still relatively new during those years.

And because directors Ron Blomberg, Jerry Sullivan, Tom Hawley and the camps’ many staffers did them right, premier college coaches from all over the country would jump at the opportunity to share their expertise with the coaches and young campers who attended the camps.

One of the most renowned college coaches to participate in the Bucks Camps was the University of Kentucky's Adolph Rupp, who at the time was college basketball's all-time winningest coach.

In the 1970s, "The Baron" came to speak the at Bucks Camps at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. for two or three days, even though his health was failing him.

"He had diabetes real bad and the circulation in his legs was bad," explained Jerry Sullivan, the camps' associate director. "Tom Hawley (Sullivan's fellow Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall-of-Famer and the coach at Muskego High School) and I picked him up at the airport and drove him to his hotel. Once we got there, Tom, Lavern Luebstorf (a WBCA Hall-of-Famer from Brookfield East High School) and I went to his room and we just talked basketball for hours. Coach Rupp was drinking Jack Daniel's and had beer on ice in his bathtub.

"At one point, I asked Adolph if I could freshen his drink. I asked if he wanted water in it, and he said, 'Son, they used too much of that when they made it.'"

The topic came up of a confrontation Rupp had once had with an up-and-coming young coach from Marquette University, Al McGuire.

"One of Al McGuire's early Marquette teams had to go to Kentucky for the NCAA tournament," Sullivan said. "Al refused to use the hotel the NCAA had set up.

"Marquette was playing Kentucky, and Marquette was assigned to sit on what was Kentucky's usual bench. Adolph asked if his team could use its usual side, and Al said, 'No way!'

"One of the camp coaches asked Adolph about that, and he said, 'Son, I love all coaches, but that guy wasn't even dry behind the ears and he was telling us how to run things!"

Sullivan and Hawley went to pick Rupp up to go to breakfast the next morning.

"I remember him answering the door in his red flannel pajamas," Sullivan said. "He went and put on a blue suit, and he told us he'd been robbed overnight.

"He came and did his morning lecture, then went back to the hotel to rest. Later on, he told us he'd found his money. He'd put his money in a pair of deck shoes he brought along. He couldn't feel the money in there with his feet because he had no feeling in them, due to his diabetes."

Sullivan vividly remembers how Rupp commanded the attention of the young campers.

“As old as he was, Adolph sat there with a group of high school freshmen and sophomores and would have them running his Kentucky offense in 15 or 20 minutes,” Sullivan said. “He'd get up in their face and tell them if they made a mistake -- any little detail -- and he'd tell them in no uncertain terms. And they remembered it."

The camp hosts in Brookings rolled out the red carpet for Rupp, but to no avail.

"The people there put on a dinner for him -- a beautiful, steak dinner," Sullivan said. "A young coach got up and introduced Adolph, and he went on for about 15 minutes, rattling off all of his accomplishments. He said he was the winningest Division-I coach, with 878 wins. And Adolph looked up at him and said, 'Son, it's 879, not 878,' or whatever it was. And he was serious.

"After we'd eaten our dinner, Adolph told one of the people who'd put on the dinner, 'That steak I had was the kind of steak I usually feed my dogs to toughen their teeth.'

"He was quite a curmudgeon."

Keep reading! “Keeping the Camp Fires Burning ... Part IV