Adolph Rupp is synonymous with winning. As coach of Kentucky, he was a pioneer in the Wildcats’ fast-break offense while becoming the winningest coach the game had ever seen.
The site that now serves as a tribute to his outstanding coaching accomplishments – Rupp Arena – has become one of the most recognizable gymnasiums in the world while serving as home to college basketball’s most storied program.
Entering its 40th season as the Kentucky Wildcats’ home court in 2015-16, the facility has seen UK win over 89 percent of its home games since it was opened in 1976. UK has gone 102-4 (.962) at home over John Calipari’s first six seasons as head coach.
In recent years, Rupp Arena completed renovations, including the lower arena seats being changed to blue from their previous rainbow colors. In addition, new end-zone seating moved the student section closer to the floor in an intimidating, standing-room only arrangement. While the endowment seats along courtside continue to entice fans to financially support their Wildcats, a large portion of the media have been moved to a “press box” location between the lower and upper seating areas. And finally, nearly 40 seats were added to each corner, the first additions in seating in nearly two decades.
The improvements followed changes that included four new video boards, a new playing floor with a striking new design and enhancements to the concourses as well. It was all part of a $15 million upgrade to what many consider the Mecca of college basketball.
Most recently, the Wildcats received a $3.1-million renovation to their locker room. Funded with private donations, the facility features the actual floor from the 2012 championship game. It has its own kitchen and dining area, as well as hot and cold tubs inlaid with the UK logo. There is also a recruiting room that is available to all 22 sports at the University of Kentucky.
Since the fall of 1976, the arena in downtown Lexington has served as home to three national championship teams at Kentucky. Three others have advanced to the Final Four. Eight seasons have witnessed the Cats go unbeaten at home.
It has played host to nearly 600 UK games, 31 KHSAA Sweet Sixteens, a number of NBA exhibitions, 11 NCAA Tournaments, three Southeastern Conference Tournaments and two Ohio Valley Conference Tournaments. With so many unforgettable moments, the old floor still maintained a value to hoop fans across the Bluegrass and beyond. Therefore, officials made pieces of the relic available for public sale, with proceeds going to the UK Basketball Museum, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association and to help offset the costs of the new playing floor. Thanks to an auction of additional sections, like coaching boxes and lettered end zones, the old floor generated more than $250,000.
The new portable basketball court, adorned with the official interlocking UK logo at midcourt, was designed by both UK officials and the Lexington Center Corporation. Robbins, Inc., in Cincinnati constructed it in 2001 at a cost of $125,000. When assembled, it lies 118 feet below the ceiling and is made of a high-grade northern maple. The floor can be removed and an ice rink can be constructed for ice shows or hockey games thanks to a $2.5 million renovation during the summer of 1996.
But the playing surface is just one aspect of the impressive home of the Cats. Situated in downtown Lexington, Rupp Arena has played host to several premier basketball events. In March of 1985, all roads led to Lexington for the NCAA Final Four as Villanova shocked Georgetown in a memorable finale.
In 1986, Rupp played host to both the Southeastern Conference Tournament and the NCAA Women’s Final Four. On numerous other occasions, the arena has served as one stop en route to the NCAA title game.
An awesome structure in sight and scope, the arena is divided into two seating areas. The lower level features 10,000 cushioned theater seats. The upper level has 13,000 seats on epoxy-coated metal bleachers. The latter can be visually isolated to provide more natural setting for small shows.
Built by the city of Lexington, the arena is the major portion of the $53 million Lexington Center complex, which includes an expanded convention-exhibition hall, a 50-store tri-level enclosed shopping mall and a Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The Wildcats command an exclusive locker room 365 days a year, while other amenities include six team-size dressing rooms and eight smaller units.
In January 2001, the arena unveiled four new video boards, each 12’6″ by 20′ in size and mounted in each corner. It allowed the Wildcats to utilize a new “lights out” introduction, featuring a video presentation and indoor fireworks.
The Joe Craft Center, the $30 million state-of-the-art basketball practice facility, opened in January 2007. The facility houses the men’s and women’s basketball teams plus many administrative and UK athletics staff offices.
In the lower level, the men’s and women’s basketball teams each get their own practice court, locker rooms, video room and lounge. There is also a huge weight room and training room utilized by both programs.
The main level features the men’s and women’s basketball offices, the K Fund department and the ticket office. On the upper level, you can find the athletics director’s office, compliance, media relations, marketing, publications and business offices.