Few people have written about one college basketball program longer than Jerry Tipton of The Lexington Herald Leader. Since the 1981-82 season, he has been the University of Kentucky basketball beat reporter. The 70-year-old has covered six coaches and three national championship teams.
It has been quite a career for Tipton, who grew up in the Detroit area and went to high school with Rudy Tomjanovich. Awful Announcing caught up with Tipton to discuss his longevity, witnessing history, and verbal jousting with John Calipari.
How did you get to the Lexington Herald Leader?
“I was working at a newspaper in Huntington, West Virginia–The Herald-Dispatch. I had been there eight years. My sports editor was in a meeting with other sports editors. I guess the editor for Lexington said he was looking for somebody to cover Kentucky. My editor in Huntington recommended me. The next thing I knew, I got a call.”
What was covering Kentucky like when you first started?
“Things were more relaxed back in the 80s. Media could go to any practice they wanted to. I remember one Thanksgiving; I was single then and had nothing else to do. They had three practices, and I went to all three just for entertainment. … It was relaxed, and you could talk to people more casually. Now it’s a much more controlled environment.”
Coach Joe B. Hall passed away in January. Do you have a favorite memory about him?
“After he retired, we would meet for lunch on occasion. Thought he could help me with a story. Give perspective. Generally, he would bring up some story from the past that he didn’t like. One time he said to me: ‘Do you realize that you’re going to have to meet your maker someday? You’re going to have to answer to why you wrote these stories.’
“I just laughed and didn’t think much of it. Then he brought it up again. I said: ‘Do you realize Joe that God might have a special place for sports writers?’ Hall said: ‘He does.’ (Hall pointed his thumb down).
“But time heals, as they say. When he died, I did the longest story I’ve ever done. 100 inches. He had talked to me about it and helped me with it prior. We got along better.”
How do you get along with Calipari?
“He has a keen sense of humor. And I try to have one. So, I think we get along on that basis. We playfully poke at each other. “
Which all-time Kentucky players have impressed you the most?
“Two guys jump out immediately. One is Tyler Ulis. He was the (starting) point guard in 2015-16. He was undersized, 5-9 or so. But he wasn’t going to let that stop him. John Calipari has had a lot of point guards and his numbers are clearly at the top. He was just fun to watch.
“The other guy is Jamal Mashburn. He was this big strong guy but with guard skills. I’ve heard coaches say that great players make their teammates better. That was Jamal Mashburn. The first year (the Wildcats) were eligible for the tournament (due to probation), that was the Christian Laettner year. Mashburn advanced that team to the Elite Eight. One game from the Final Four. That stands out.”
What do you remember about the 1992 Kentucky-Duke game?
“I was sitting in the front row. Kind of opposite the top of the key from where Laettner made the shot. That was the only game where I was kind of blown away by the quality of basketball, the drama, and the whole thing. I was just stunned. Trying to write about it just seemed overwhelming. … Every once in a while, I feel lucky that I’m witnessing history. That’s the first game where that comes to mind.”
What’s the tensest moment you’ve experienced?
“It was media day (in 2017). They had a player whose eligibility was in question. So I asked about that, and (Calipari) didn’t like that. I asked it respectfully. But he kind of questioned the question. I just thought that was going too far. So, I said in an agitated tone that he could (choose to) not answer the question, but he could not go dictating what the questions were. I pointed out that it was media day, not coaches day. People remember that.”
Jerry Tipton just checked John Calipari.— Clayton Abernathy (@ClayKY1) October 12, 2017
"This is a media day, not coach day." pic.twitter.com/R6Pf718dbn
What’s the best and toughest thing about your job?
“The toughest thing are the early deadlines. I feel like I’m constantly rushing, so it’s frustrating that you can’t sit back and be more thoughtful. I don’t know if the stories would be better necessarily. But that would be a luxury I would like to have.
“The best thing: seeing history every once in a while and writing about something that readers care so much about.”
Do you have a set deadline? How long will you stay on the Kentucky beat?
“No. I don’t even go year to year. I go day to day.”