The Kentucky vs. Louisville rivalry is arguably the best in college basketball.
And if you want to know more about this heated rivalry between both state schools, which are only about 75 miles apart, you can find the inside stories in a newly-published book.
The new hardcover, titled “Fightin’ Words: Kentucky vs. Louisville” (Sports Publishing, $24.95), is written by a co-author who has very close ties in the Middlesboro area.
Joe Cox, a 1998 graduate of J. Frank White Academy in Harrogate who grew up in Letcher County and Middlesboro, has penned a compelling look at the fierce rivalry, including the early pre-rivalry days. And, beginning with the famous 1983 NCAA Tournament Dream Game in Knoxville, each chapter has a very readable format with pre-game analysis, full-game coverage and post-game discussion, along with personal interviews from players on both clubs.
It’s Cox’s third book and his co-author is Ryan Clark.
Former rival coaches Joe B. Hall of Kentucky and Denny Crum of Louisville also wrote the foreword for the new book. As you probably know, they are now pretty close friends, sharing their popular statewide radio show, and even sat together at the Kentucky-Louisville showdown during 2012 NCAA Final Four in New Orleans.
The two legendary coaches said they were not enemies many years ago even when both schools didn’t face each other. They simply respected each other.
In the 236-page book, Hall and Crum discussed the early days when many folks pushed for the annual UK-U of L contest.
Cox — who lives with his family in Rockfield, Ky. (near Bowling Green) — says he definitely feels his latest literary effort is a balanced look at the rivalry.
“Unlike our first book (on UK basketball), we went into this one knowing that in order for the book to work, we had to be fair to telling two opposing stories at the same time,” said Cox, who grew up a Wildcat fan and graduated from the U of L law school. “But both stories were so fascinating (and it) ended up much easier than I thought.
“I suspect that some UK fans will read it and think, ‘Wow, they were too tough on UK.’ And some U of L fans will read it and think, ‘Those guys are Big Blue homers!’
“If that happens, we probably got it right!”
CBS sports commentator Clark Kellogg wrote one of the blurbs, saying the Kentucky-Louisville series is the best one in the country.
There was an interesting tidbit about ex-Wildcat star Rex Chapman and his comments when the authors told him at an autograph signing that they would be interviewing Crum. As you may recall, Chapman nearly became a member of the Cardinals family as the prep superstar was also heavily recruited by Louisville. Before coming to Kentucky in 1986, King Rex played at Owensboro Apollo High School.
On a wintry December day in 1986, Chapman had a very memorable performance against defending national champion U of L at Freedom Hall. He was the big hero as the 6-5 freshman guided the Cats to a stunning 85-51 victory over Louisville, pumping in a game-high 26 points with five three-pointers.
The book’s official release date is March 4, according to Cox, but it probably will be available sooner at bookstores and on various Web sites.
By the way, I should note as a disclaimer that the “Fightin’ Words” book also published several game photos that I took many years ago when I was an active photographer (along with my sportswriting).
Anyhow, this book would make a very nice addition to a basketball fan’s library.
Especially for the folks in the Big Blue Nation or the Cardinal Nation.
— — —
Cox, whose mother and father still live in Middlesboro, is already looking ahead with another writing project.
In addition to upcoming book signings in Louisville, Lexington and other locations for “Fightin’ Words,” he will be staying pretty busy, writing a biography about a well-known radio announcer.
The new volume will be about the life of former UK broadcaster Claude Sullivan, who provided play-by-play during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
Cox and Sullivan’s son, Alan, are in the final stages of the book, which is expected to be released around October.
Some folks from the older generation have said Sullivan’s work was comparable to that of the legendary Cawood Ledford. Sullivan, who also called the Cincinnati Reds, died of cancer at the young age of 42 in 1967.