1937-2023Class of 1994
In 1971, a young coach named Denny Crum left his California roots to breathe new life into the basketball program at the University of Louisville. Crum, an assistant and former player in the UCLA system, hoped that he might someday experience just a fraction of the success his mentor John Wooden had achieved in the City of Angels. Crum came to Kentucky equipped with a sound foundation in fundamental basketball, as well as a quiet confidence that would endear him to a basketball state for the rest of his life.
Denzel “Denny” Crum passed away on May 9, 2023. He was 86. Crum was one of college basketball’s coaching giants, winning two NCAA national championships at the University of Louisville and earning six trips to the Final Four. The man Al McGuire once called “Cool Hand Luke” for his calm, steady demeanor might well have been a star on the Hollywood screen had basketball not been his calling.
“There was no finer gentleman in the game of basketball than Denny Crum,” said John Doleva, President & CEO of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. “His easygoing personality belied his competitive streak, but win or lose, there was always grace, humility, and dignity. We extend our deepest sympathy to the entire Crum family.”
Like Wooden at UCLA, Crum fashioned his Louisville Cardinals into a basketball powerhouse over his 30 years at the wheel. Crum’s coaching and recruiting style was heavily influenced by Wooden. He installed the high post offense and 2-2-1 zone press that helped shape the Bruins dynasty. He brought in fast, athletic players to apply full-court pressure and execute the fast break, but he expected discipline and effective reads in his half-court sets. All of this translated into winning consistently.
In Season One, Crum accomplished the unimaginable: His first Louisville team tap-danced all the way to the program’s first Final Four in 1972. The semifinal matchup with the UCLA Bruins meant teacher and protégé would meet for the first time. UCLA was led by Bill Walton, the consensus Player of the Year and a guy Crum recruited and once called “the greatest high school prospect ever.” Crum would face his mentor twice in the Final Four, going 0-2 against the Wizard of Westwood.
Crum won 675 games as a Division I head coach, none bigger than the game on March 24, 1980, when Louisville again faced UCLA, this time for the national championship. The Cardinals avenged the two previous semifinal losses to UCLA to win the program’s first-ever national championship. The Wizard’s curse had finally been broken. In the ensuing years, Crum pushed Louisville to consecutive Final Fours in 1982 and 1983. Then in 1986, Louisville again raced all the way to the national championship to make Crum one of only eight coaches at the time to have won multiple NCAA titles.
Crum retired from coaching in 2001. His tenure at Louisville included 23 NCAA Tournaments, 15 conference regular season titles, and 11 conference tournaments championships. He coached four consensus All-Americans and more than 25 future NBA players. He was named National Coach of the Year in 1983 and 1986.
Denny Crum was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with the Class of 1994. Crum is also honored at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the Naismith Coaches Circle which recognizes the positive impact he made on community, players, other coaches, and society at large.