Longtime Kentucky basketball writer Jerry Tipton, via YouTube.

Longtime University of Kentucky basketball fans know the name Jerry Tipton. Tipton covered the Wildcats for 41 years as a beat reporter at The Lexington Herald-Leader until his retirement in July 2022.

Tipton has released a memoir Déjà Blue: A Sportswriter Reflects on 41 Seasons of Kentucky Basketball. We recently caught up with the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame member to ask about this project. To order his book, visit here

Awful Announcing: What made you want to write a book?

Jerry Tipton: “Well, I asked myself that question several times. I had people encourage me to do so. And I thought, boy, you’re covering a beat like Kentucky basketball. That is something I think people might be interested in more so than other beats. Plus, I did it for 41 years. For some people, I was almost synonymous with it. Other factors came in. I have two sons. I thought maybe they could get to know me better by reading it. And my wife mentioned that maybe there’s an aspiring sportswriter out there who could learn from my experience.”

How long did you work on it and was the process harder than you expected?

“I would say counting the thought process of running it through my mind until the book was published, probably about eight, nine months. I didn’t know what to expect because I’d never written a book. Newspaper stories, I could do. There is some anxiety there too, of course. This was a new experience. But once I got going, I felt like things fell into place and I felt better about it.”

Did you strictly rely on your memories and prior reporting?

“I was a little reluctant to have it just about me. The real me does not like to be out there. Of course, it’s a memoir, so I have to be part of it. But I didn’t want it to be just totally about me. I talked to over 40 people, former players, and others, and got their thoughts. Not necessarily about me, but their memories to give it a quasi-historical feel. So, it’s not just my story. I had the stuff accumulated, and I did take notes. I did make lists. There were six Kentucky coaches that I covered. I had a list of memories with each one.”

Is there a particular former player you enjoyed talking to the most?

“Sam Bowie. My first two years covering were the two years that he sat out because of a stress fracture in his lower leg. It was nice to listen to him reflect on that experience. One thing that stood out was his second year of sitting out. Back then, the media could go to practice. He was going to play in this practice, and he hadn’t played in the season. I guess they were going to see where he was in his rehab at that point. I knew he was highly regarded, but I’d never seen him play in person. He hadn’t played in such a long time, so I lowered my expectations. But he was the best player on the floor in this scrimmage. More than 40 years later, he said he had an agenda. He wanted to show that he was still Sam Bowie.”

Were there people you weren’t able to speak with?

“Well, yeah. Some people have passed away, Joe B. Hall and Eddie Sutton. I wasn’t able to get Rick Pitino. I talked to one of his assistants. And for each of the coaches, I talked to someone on the staff, if not them. I didn’t get Billy Gillispie either. I’m sure there may have been some other people that I tried to get and for whatever reason wasn’t able to.”

What are your recollections of Tubby Smith?

“Tubby was interesting. And this is in the memoir, just by total chance, when Tubby was the head coach, he and his wife, Donna, and me and my wife, Paula, we all went to the same church. It was just a coincidence. It wasn’t a thing like I’m going to go to the same church as the UK coach to see how much money he’s putting in the offering. To me, it further humanized him and I mean that as a compliment. And maybe it’s humanized me in his eyes.”

More shocking: John Calipari leaving Kentucky for Arkansas or Kentucky hiring Mark Pope?

“I don’t know if I would use shocking as my reaction to either one of them. John Calipari had been the coach at Kentucky for 15 seasons, which is longer than any coach except Adolph Rupp. There’s sort of a limit on how long you can be Kentucky’s coach. Generally, you hear 10 years is a good span. I think after a certain amount of time fans anywhere want a new toy to play with. They’ve played with the coach and now they want a new coach. I think John Calipari sensed with losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament again that people wanted a change. They wanted a new toy. Arkansas is a good option. With Pope, I was surprised to a degree because Kentucky fans wanted a big name. Pope is not as big a name as some others. But he knows the program. I think he’s going to do well.”

How will Kentucky fans respond when Calipari returns to Rupp Arena?

“That’s a good question. I don’t think it’s going to be negative. I may be wrong because I think the fans wanted a change. You could say that he didn’t leave voluntarily. He left because the time was right. I think the fans would understand that. A lot has to do with anything he might say. If he criticizes Kentucky leading up to the game, it probably will be a more negative reaction. But I think it’ll be a polite, if not warm, reception.”

Do you have a good example of Kentucky fans acting too obsessed or unreasonable?

“My last game covering was when Kentucky lost to Saint Peter’s in the first round of the 2022 NCAA tournament. I remember Kellan Grady didn’t shoot well. He was a very good 3-point shooter. It stood out to me. So, in the postgame press conference, I asked him why he thought he was struggling and what effect his poor shooting had in the game. He answered it politely. I forgot that people can watch the press conferences on the internet. Some fan didn’t like that question and thought I was totally out of line. I always tried to respond politely. I replied with an email and said I would ask my sports editor, Mat Graf, and ask our columnist, John Clay, about the question to see if they felt like I was out of line. The person wrote back and apologized for overreacting. I think he just appreciated his question was being taken seriously. I did ask, and (Graf and Clay) said the question was OK.”

What advice would you give someone who wants to be the next Jerry Tipton?

“The first thing I thought of when you were asking the question was how things have changed. They’re so different than they were back in the day. All I tried to do was what I was taught by journalism professors and people. Once I joined newspapers, (fellow reporters) had much more experience than me, so I tried to learn from them. I just tried to be objective and give the readers as best I could insight into whatever the story was. I tried to make the stories informative and entertaining in that order. Informative was more important than entertaining.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.