By LARRY VAUGHT
Eddie Sutton took three teams to the Final Four — and probably deserved to have also got Kentucky there based on the talent he had during his time at Kentucky.
He won 806 games, took 25 teams to the NCAA Tournament and was recently selected for induction in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame on his seventh try.
He died Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., at age 84.
“Eddie Sutton could flat out coach,” former UK All-American Kenny Walker said. “I know he had problems after I left and I hated that because we were so good that first year when we were 32-4 and on the verge of a (national) championship.
“I think if UK could have given him a few more years here, he could have delivered (a national championship). He was that good.”
Sutton’s first Kentucky team finished 32-4 and might have won a national title in Walker’s senior season except it lost to LSU — a team it had already beat three times that season — in the Elite Eight. Still, Sutton had a 90-40 record at UK before scandal rocket the program and cost him his job.
Sutton, though, got his personal life together, got a chance to be head coach at Oklahoma State from 1990-2006.
“He was always kind to me and my family when I was a young coach and we’ve stayed in touch throughout his life. He’s going to be missed. RIP, my friend. He and his family are in my prayers,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Sunday.
Roger Harden was UK’s point guard on Sutton’s first team and noted on social media that Sutton “believed in me when I didn’t and it changed my life.” That’s a strong, strong statement considering Harden also played for Joe Hall.
Harden considered Sutton a “life long friend” and said going 32-4 that year was the “joy of a lifetime” for him.
“I will cherish the many warm memories you gave me until we meet again,” Harden posted on Twitter about Sutton.
Former UK assistant coach Jimmy Dykes played for Sutton at Arkansas and remembers a time Arkansas lost two of three games in a tournament in Hawaii, went to the airport after the game, flew all night and then went straight to practice at 7a.m. after landing.
“Practiced three times that day and took 100 charges each. That was Coach Sutton. And we loved him,” Dykes said.
Dykes said as a player and coach under Sutton, he knew “we would never be outreached by the guy on the opposing bench.”
This came from a player who did not make the travel squad his first year playing for Sutton.
Reggie Hanson came to Kentucky to play for Sutton and then played for Rick Pitino after Sutton’s departure. He said they had two “totally different coaching styles” at Kentucky.
“Eddie was defensive coach and not into player development at much,” Hanson said. “When I started with him I 6-7 about 180 pounds. He said I had to do more than just post up or I would not successful. And he could really coaching defense.”
Actually, he could just really coach and he also knew to appreciate the history and tradition of Kentucky basketball. He was a true gentleman and I loved the way he was willing to talk and then talk some more even with media members about his team or basketball in general.
I also admired the way he never had a bad thing to say about Kentucky after he left and continued to heap praise on the UK program.
Sure he had problems. Sure he did some things wrong. But he learned from his mistakes and will always believe he was one of the best coaches in the game.