Monday, February 25, 2013

The Effect of Sam Bowie's Injury on Coach Hall's Reputation

Eric and Matthew have been talking about Sam Bowie's injury, and it got me to thinking about how those seasons in the early 1980's played out.  Consider the following:

Bowie was part of the same class as Dirk Minniefield, Derrick Hord, and Charles Hurt.  They were all freshmen in 1979-80, and they were sophomores in 1980-81.  The 1980-81 season ended with a loss to UAB.  For 1981-82, Bowie was gone due to injury.  So that team was led by three juniors (Minniefield, Hurt, and Hord), with Jim Master and Melvin Turpin as sophomores.  That team lost to MTSU.  In 1982-83, UK had a great team:  Minniefield, Hurt, and Hord were seniors; Master, Turpin, and Beal were juniors; and Kenny Walker was a freshman.  That team, of course, came very, very close to the Final Four – they were beaten by Louisville in overtime.  The next year, Bowie was back – but Minniefield, Hurt, and Hord were gone.  By this point, Walker and Turpin were so good that UK didn't miss Hurt and Hord too much – they had been phased out over the course of the 1983 season anyway.  But there was no good replacement for Minniefield.  Here is UK's 1983-84 roster:

Seniors:  Bowie, Turpin, Beal, and Master
Juniors:  Bearup and McKinley
Sophomores:  Walker and Roger Harden
Freshmen:  Winston Bennett and James Blackmon

Now that is an even better team than the one UK had in 1983 – and this team did reach the Final Four.  But the bottom line is that Hall never had the chance to play the team he had meant to have – the 1983 team that would have featured Minniefield, Bowie, Turpin, Master, Hurt, Hord, and Walker.  Without Bowie, the 1983 team didn't have enough on the inside to go all the way.  Without Minniefield, the 1984 team lacked the point guard play necessary to go all the way.

Could Hall have won it all in 1983, if he'd had Sam Bowie?  I believe he could have.  Remember, he was building toward that year – just as he had built for 1978.  I think UK, with Bowie, beats U of L in 1983, and then I think the Cats would have had a very good chance to take down Phi Slamma Jamma in the Final Four.  (UK did beat Houston the next year, although that game was at Rupp and Houston no longer had Clyde Drexler.)  And then it would have been a final against North Carolina State – and UK had some great free throw shooters.  In any event, I would have much preferred UK's chances with Bowie in 1983 to their chances of getting past Patrick Ewing and company without a good point guard in 1984.

The extent to which Bowie's injury wrecked those UK teams of the early 1980s – and Joe Hall's efforts to do what he could to coach around them – probably deserve a lot more attention than they have gotten.  At the time, the local media did little to defend Hall, and mostly did everything they could to make him look bad.  That definitely had an effect on how he was perceived, but inside and outside Kentucky.  My guess is that a sympathetic writer could tell a pretty convincing story of how Hall did some of his best work in 1983 and 1984, and got almost no credit for it.


  1. As I recall, Beal had a pretty good senior year at the point ...

    1. Let me just say that it's quite a testament the Family of Man that an old Lone Oak Purple Flash academic-team stalwart as yourself, Joey, is contributing to The Heath Post. We truly are all Mustangs now.

    2. This may be the explanation for how those teams were viewed -- to the extent folks didn't think UK lost much in Minniefield, Hord, and Hurt, then they wouldn't have thought it made much of a difference whether Bowie played with the 1983 team or the 1984 team.

  2. In light of this post, I glanced through Big Blue Mania by Oscar Combs, which was published right after the 1980-81 season. There is no sense that Bowie is going to be limited by injury at all, and the whole tone of the book is that a championship or two is in store.

    Bowie had logged 19 points and 15 rebounds in an 80-48 win over Vanderbilt late in the season. Then he had 12 and six in the SEC tournament game in which Vanderbilt upset UK, 60-55. I'm unsure which of those two games against Vanderbilt included the initial Bowie injury. But then came the upset loss to UAB in the NCAA tournament, 69-62, as Bowie missed six of eight field-goal attempts and fouled out with eight points and four rebounds. Bowie averaged 17.4 points on 52-percent shooting and 9.1 rebounds during the 1980-81 season, and he fouled out of only one other game all season.

    There is no mention of a Bowie injury in these stories, about the Vanderbilt and UAB season-ending losses.

    From that team, UK was returning five players who had started at least 14 games (Bowie, Chuck Verderber, Charles Hurt, Derrick Hord and Dirk Minniefield), plus Beal, Jim Master, Mel Turpin and Bret Bearup (who each averaged at least 9.9 minutes a game). Only Freddie Cowan (a 17-game starter in '80-81) and Chris Gettelfinger (seven appearances) were gone. Troy McKinley, an outside scorer from Independence Simon Kenton, and Mike Ballenger, a point guard from Jasper, Ind., were newcomers on the roster.

    Then turns up this brief in Bowling Green's Park City Daily News on Sept. 11, 1981.

  3. Replies
    1. That makes sense. I remember being absolutely shocked when UK lost to Vanderbilt in the 1981 SEC Tournament. I don't think I could remember UK ever losing to Vanderbilt in basketball.