BOZICH | Maraniss will discuss SEC pioneer Perry Wallace Thursda - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Maraniss will discuss SEC pioneer Perry Wallace Thursday at Carmichael's

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Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the SEC, attacked Dan Issel of Kentucky. Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the SEC, attacked Dan Issel of Kentucky.
Andrew Maraniss wrote "Strong Inside," the book about Perry Wallace of Vanderbilt. Andrew Maraniss wrote "Strong Inside," the book about Perry Wallace of Vanderbilt.
Strong Inside is available in hardback and paperback. Strong Inside is available in hardback and paperback.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When you make a list of the most significant figures in the history of Southeastern Conference basketball, Adolph Rupp, Dan Issel, Nolan Richardson, Pete Maravich, C.M. Newton, Shaquille O'Neal, Billy Donovan, Bernard King, Ernie Grunfeld, Tubby Smith and dozens of others headline the list.

Never forget Perry Wallace.

Andrew Maraniss is rightly determined that you will never forget Wallace.

Wallace scored the most impactful 1,010 points in SEC history at Vanderbilt from 1966-1970. If you want to understand the difficulty of what Wallace achieved, go to Carmichael's Bookstore at 2720 Frankfort Avenue at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Maraniss will discuss "Strong Inside," his 2014 book about Wallace's journey as the player who integrated basketball in the Southeastern Conference. 

The book, available in paperback as well as hard-bound editions, made the New York Times best-seller list in two categories. It was required reading for all Vanderbilt freshmen this semester. It also won the Lillian Smith Book Award and special recognition for the RFK Book Award in the category of books focused on civil rights.

If the name of the author resonates with voracious readers, it should. Maraniss is the son of David Maraniss, a veteran political writer at the Washington Post as well as the author of books about Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi, Roberto Clemente, Vietnam, Barack Obama and other unforgettable topics.

Andrew Maraniss attended -- and later worked at -- Vanderbilt. In 1989 he researched Wallace's story for a history class project. Several years later Maraniss realized Wallace's story deserved closer to 40,000 words than 4,000. He invested four years of research followed by four years of writing.

"It struck me as the most interesting story I'd ever heard and I thought more people needed to know about what Perry had achieved," Maraniss said.

Winning three straight high school titles in Tennessee, including the first integrated tournament in 1966. Wallace was a powerful 6-foot-5 forward who could shoot, defend and dunk.

Turning down scholarship inquiries and offers from established and integrated programs like Michigan, UCLA, Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern. 

Developing a relationship with Kentucky assistant coaches Joe B. Hall and Harry Lancaster. Wondering how much Rupp truly wanted him to break the color line in the SEC at Kentucky, considering the Hall of Fame coach never came to see him play.

Taking a visit to the University of Louisville and chatting with Cardinals' players like Wes Unseld and Butch Beard about the task of making the bold stop at Kentucky.

Believing in Vanderbilt coach Roy Skinner and accepting the social and basketball challenge at Vandy and the hostile SEC

Being taunted, harassed and ridiculed at multiple stops around the SEC. Death threats. Spitting. Dodging fans trying to pour soft drinks on him, especially in Mississippi. Hearing catcalls when Wallace succeeded as well as cheers when he struggled.

"This was about 20 years after Jackie Robinson integrated baseball," Maraniss said. "At times, it was extremely difficult for Perry just to survive but he did everything he could to stay above the fray."

Maraniss said the book deals with Rupp and UK's uneven recruiting of Wallace, who would have been in the same class with Dan Issel, Mike Pratt and Mike Casey with the Wildcats, several years before Rupp gave a scholarship to Tom Payne, UK's first African-American player, from Louisville. 

"Perry was interested in Kentucky, but he thought he was strange that he never heard from or met Adolph Rupp," Maraniss said.

But Maraniss said that Wallace credited Kentucky with providing the best visiting environment because of the appreciation that UK fans had for basketball. Wallace later enjoyed a conversation with Rupp at a college basketball all-star game.

Wallace has delivered the best answer to his critics and antagonists -- a life well-lived. 

He earned a law degree at Columbia before establishing careers as an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice and law professor at American University.

Maraniss, who still lives in Nashville, will be happy to discuss the book and sign copies at Carmichael's Thursday night.

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