By Jamie H. Vaught
A trivia question for you.
Can you name a former college basketball coach who has defeated Kentucky more than anyone else in history?
You say Dean Smith. Wrong. You say Ray Mears. Wrong. You say Bobby Knight. Wrong again.
The correct answer is Dale Brown, whose LSU teams defeated the Wildcats 18 times against 33 losses. (Florida's Billy Donovan now has 17 wins against UK.)
The charismatic Brown (pictured) retired in 1997 after a productive 25-year coaching career with a 448-301 mark at LSU, including two trips to the Final Four.
Brown, now 79, still lives in Baton Rouge and is currently a motivational speaker. He and his wife, Vonnie, have been married for 56 years. They have three grandsons, all of them nearly grown.
"I have no complaints regarding my health and realize I am blessed," he said in an e-mail last week.
The former coach once had a serious health issue in 2003, suffering a near-fatal stroke, but fortunately has had no side effects.
Looking back, Brown still marvels at UK's winning basketball tradition.
"After coaching 25 years in the SEC and being a coach for 44 years, I think that Kentucky year in and year out has the best basketball program in the nation and the best fans," said Brown. "While I was coaching at LSU, they were the beacon light in our conference."
As for his coaching career, Brown guided his Tigers to four SEC regular season titles, and only three ex-UK coaches (Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall and Tubby Smith) and Florida's Donovan have captured more conference titles. He is still the third winningest coach in SEC history with 448 victories, behind Rupp (875) and Donovan (451), going into this season.
The colorful Brown is sure in a very good company, but he has praise for the current Kentucky coach who is approaching legendary status.
"John Calipari is an excellent coach, superb recruiter and a fine man," he said. "I have seen some great coaches in this country and he certainly ranks with the best of them."
Brown said the top-ranked Wildcats don't remind him of any UK squad from the past.
"This year’s Kentucky team, to the best of my knowledge, does not remind me of any former Wildcat teams and that is a pretty powerful statement with the illustrious teams Kentucky has produced for so many years," he said. "That does not mean I am rating them the best ever because the season is not completed."
Will the Cats go unbeaten this season at 40-0?
"For me to comment about whether the Kentucky team will go unbeaten would be meaningless," Brown commented. "I do not have the power of Nostradamus (the famous prophet during the 1500s) and if I did it would be undue pressure on the team.
"Also, remember they are teenagers and there is no such thing as a 'sure thing.' "
One of Brown's former standout players is Johnny Jones, who is in his third year as the head coach at LSU. Jones, 53, also served as Brown's assistant for many years as well.
Did Brown see Jones as a coaching material when he coached the playmaker during the early 1980s?
"After several weeks of practice, it was clear to me that Johnny Jones had a future in coaching for these reasons," recalled Brown. "The older players gravitated to him because of his personality and knowledge of the game. Secondly, when we would sit and talk prior to practice, it amazed me how knowledgeable he was regarding the top players in the nation. Lastly, he had a determined attitude."
Over the years, Brown has been a fighter (against the NCAA, among other things) with an upbeat personality. He said his upbringing -- a difficult childhood growing up in North Dakota -- has given him a work ethic and encouraged him to never give up.
And Brown's faith has helped him succeed in life.
"Without my faith in God I would be a lost soul, I cannot live one day without God," he told this columnist in a separate interview in 2011.
Brown has been an adventurous world traveler, too.
"I have been in 90 countries in the world and none of them compare to this great country even with its flaws," he said. "When I say God Bless America, it comes from my heart and not my mouth."
When Brown visited Rupp Arena in 2011 when the Tigers played the Wildcats, he was a pretty popular guy. Many folks waved at and shook hands with the coach, who was very courteous and posed with several fans for pictures. He also had delightful chats with Joe B. Hall and former Wildcat performers like Herky Rupp (Adolph Rupp's son), Kevin Grevey and Jimmy Dan Conner, among others.
"The fans were most gracious and I was very appreciative," said Brown four years ago of the Lexington trip.
Brown is looking forward to the Kentucky-LSU matchup on Tuesday, Feb. 10 (ESPN at 7 p.m.) in Baton Rouge.
The former mentor was asked what does LSU have to do to beat Kentucky. Do the Tigers have enough weapons?
"It would be presumptuous of me to give an answer that Kentucky would profit from," he quipped. "However, I do think it will be an extremely exciting game."
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle360.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. Reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle360@gmail.com.