A Week Like No Other

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Just as C.J. Conrad hauled in the untimed 2-yard touchdown pass for Kentucky’s improbable 15-14 win over Missouri, I felt the earth suddenly shift. It wasn’t just a tepid tremble or slight quiver, but rather a gargantuan seismic displacement as the sports world tipped precariously on its axis. I never thought I’d be able to say these words in my lifetime, but KENTUCKY FOOTBALL IS RELEVANT ON THE NATIONAL LANDSCAPE!

Yes, you heard me right—Kentucky Football. The 11th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats will host the Georgia Bulldogs this coming Saturday at Kroger Field for a chance to do something they’ve never done before. Win that battle and the Cats are on their way to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship Game.

Before everyone starts booking rooms on Peachtree, realize that it won’t be easy. Georgia leads the all-time series with Kentucky 57-12-3. They’ve won 19 of their last 21 games against the Wildcats, including the last eight in a row. Coach Kirby Smart’s #6 Bulldogs rolled over #13 Florida 36-17 last Saturday in their annual cocktail bash. They’ve got NFL-caliber talent and a pedigree to match. Make no mistake about it, Georgia’s as good as advertised.

But if there’s a defensive unit I’m rolling with, it has to be this year’s Wildcats. They’re now tied with Clemson for number one in scoring defense. They’re 10th in total defense, 12th in pass efficiency defense, and 17th in run defense. Against a high-powered Missouri offense, they forced eight straight three-and-outs in the second half. YOU GOTTA BE KIDDIN’ ME! I’ve never seen anything like it. As I’ve said before, https://huangswhinings.com/2018/10/21/as-good-as-it-gets , Josh Allen, Mike Edwards, and crew have proven themselves to be arguably the best EVER to have worn the blue and white.

Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network recently congratulated Coach Mark Stoops and the Wildcats on their recent big victory. “The scene Saturday in Lexington for Georgia will be epic,” he tweeted. In my opinion, the word “epic” does a disservice to the spectacle that is brewing in the Bluegrass. Batten down the hatches, cuz a big storm’s a comin’.

If Kentucky wins this Saturday, it’ll be an exorcism of sorts. No longer will ghosts of the long-suffering football past be haunting the Big Blue. Out with Florida and Chris Doering in 1993, or LSU and the Bluegrass miracle in 2002. No more bone-headed penalties, clock mismanagement, or botched coverages snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Disregard losses to Vanderbilt with twenty people left in the stands. Or Lonas Sieber missing a makeable 35-yard field goal in overtime to beat Tennessee—fuhgeddaboudit! ALL OF IT!

No, it’s out with the old and in with the new. From here on in, nothing but last-second victories, crowd-surfing coaches, and jubilant field-stormings allowed. A victory over the Bulldogs and you’ll see couches burning on campus like never before. A half-century of pent up angst and frustration released in sixty minutes of gridiron glory. How can you possibly top that?

WITH BASKETBALL OF COURSE!  Believe it or not, three days later, Kentucky Basketball opens their regular season at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis against—get this—Duke University. It’s Mike Krzyzewski, the head devil himself and public enemy number one, bringing in his top-rated recruiting class to battle Calipari and his Cats. The villainous legacy of Steve Wojciechowski, JJ Redick, and Grayson Allen be damned. Ever since the Laettner shot, Kentucky fans have forever thirsted for sweet revenge on the national stage.

Should Kentucky upset Georgia in football and knock off Duke in basketball, I’m not sure what I’ll do—maybe shave my head, get a tattoo, or streak naked along press row. Historic milestone wins within single sports don’t happen very frequently. Titanic victories within dual universes simply don’t happen at all—NEVER!

That’s why this upcoming week may be the most significant in my half-century as a Wildcat fan. We’re not talking just monumental, extraordinary, or grand. With all due respect to Paul Finebaum, we’re not even talking “epic.”  We’re talking the best one-two punch ever delivered—within a three-day span—by the most passionate fans on the face of the earth. Get ready for another seismic shift. Buckle your seatbelts BBN. It’ll be a week like no other—and I’ll be there to cover it all. Go Big Blue!

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Media Group and a lifelong Wildcat fan. He’s currently working with former LEX18 sportscaster Alan Cutler on his new book. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals and other professional sports coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang

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It Could Happen to Anyone

“GOOD MORNING BIG BLUE NATION!” That’s the greeting reverberating across the airwaves of Louisville Talk Radio every weekday morning at precisely 8:06 am. The booming voice and unmistakable laugh belong to Michael Bennett, host of the increasingly popular talk show, Just the Tip, spotlighting University of Kentucky sports.

Gregarious by nature, Michael wants to be everybody’s best friend. He describes himself as “happy go lucky,” and everybody who has met the former UK Baseball pitcher turned orthopedic neuro-spinal sales distributor turned radio talk show host, would be quick to agree. His jocular and jesting on-air banter with show producer and co-host Shannon “The Dude” Grigsby never fails to bring a big smile to anybody tuning in. Honestly, I don’t know anybody around who doesn’t love “jolly” Michael Bennett.

Appearances can be deceiving, and Michael Bennett—like 16 million other adults in the U.S.—struggles with the deep, dark side of a debilitating illness known as depression. Michael’s demon is just a small part of the larger spectrum of mental illness disorders, which affects nearly 44 million adults in this country. That’s one in five people—burdened and battered by a health condition which—even in 2018—remains so ridiculously stigmatized that many are fearful to admit they have it.

“This is something I didn’t want to admit to my family,” Michael recently acknowledged to me. “My wife knew about it, but my boys didn’t know about it. My dad didn’t know about it. I’m very close to my sister, and she didn’t know about it. To be able to say something about it to someone like you was a reopening—a rebirth.”

Michael Bennett and I have two things in common. The first is our love for University of Kentucky sports. We initially met at a football press conference at the beginning of the 2017 season, which triggered a series of serendipitous events and conversations that ultimately resulted in the unveiling of this very personal story.

The second commonality in our lives is that we’ve both been faced with the immense challenges of dealing with depression—Michael, directly as a victim—and me, through the suffering of my spouse (https://huangswhinings.com/2017/04/11/in-sickness-and-in-health) and another close personal friend.

As we’re sitting here and talking on a beautiful late-summer afternoon, looking down from the bleachers onto Kroger Field, I still can’t believe that someone so outwardly jovial could be depressed. And yet, I can fully believe it because depression is as sneaky as an onside kick in the gut. It lulls you into a state of denial, stiff-arms you into apathy or acceptance, and shames you to where you feel vulnerably exposed.

“I noticed depression coming in after my mom passed away,” Michael relayed to me as his voice began cracking. “I lost her 18 years ago, and I still get teary-eyed talking about her. I’m very close with my family. I’m especially close with my mom and dad. That’s when it hit. When my mom passed away, I disappeared for about four or five years.”

Disappearing meant being exhausted and tired all the time. It meant wanting to sleep all the time. It meant being numb day in and day out. Michael described it like being handcuffed to a wheelchair and not being able to do anything about it. It was debilitating. When friends asked if he wanted to talk, that just drove him further into seclusion. The saddest part of all was missing a lot of what went on in his children’s lives during those formative years.

“Looking back, I didn’t know anything was wrong at the time,” Michael admitted. “I just knew I didn’t want to be around anybody. I didn’t know anything about depression. I wasn’t even aware that I suffered and struggled with any sort of anxiety. The people that knew me knew that something wasn’t right. My wife knew it especially. I didn’t want to be around anybody.”

Michael’s wife, Patricia, is a real gem. People such as she—spouses turned caregivers, who must live with the daily emotional turmoil of watching their loved ones spiral into such depths of despair—deserve sainthood status. Balancing a career while raising a family isn’t easy. Doing it alone, while dealing with the flux and uncertainty of Michael’s depression, would drive many to the brink.

“I don’t know how someone like you or my wife overcomes living with a severely depressed spouse,” Michael said. “I’ve told her numerous times in the past, ‘Why do you stay with me?’ I don’t get it. I would have been long gone. I credit her a lot for getting us where we are. If it weren’t for my wife, my family, my boys…when I finally admitted it to them—they kind of understand now what I’m going through. They helped me out quite a bit.”

Depressive disorders have wrecked many a marriage, with the spouse bearing the brunt of the illness’s vicious attack. On the worst of days, you tell yourself that this is not what you signed up for—that you deserve to have a happy life with a spouse who is “normal.” Just seeing other couples out for a simple evening together triggers painful thoughts of what once was or could have been.

“Marriage is a promise, through sickness and in health,” Patricia clarified. “Everyone in the family who is affected by mental illness gets to a crossroads. And you stand at that crossroads, and you must make a decision that you’re going to go down one side or the other. It would have been so easy to just walk away from Michael. But then you realize all the people that would be undone by that.”

Patricia’s ever-present faith and tenacious character would not let her simply walk away. She continually lived on pins and needles, not knowing whether the next twenty-four hours would be good or bad, depending on how Michael was feeling that day. Not knowing how his illness would play out over the long haul also ratcheted up anxiety levels within her own mind. “I literally had to take it one step at a time,” she recalled. “I tried to take each day as a gift. I tried to find something good about every day. Sometimes I had to work really hard to find it. I took the boys to baseball games, was involved with the kids in school, and volunteered all the time. Looking back, that was my salvation—to get a chance to be around other caring adults and to see our kids flourish. That was the happiness that got me through.”

Finally, a breaking point came. Something woke Michael up. “Some people may roll their eyes,” Michael hesitantly confessed. “But it was the power of God, the power of my church, and the power of prayer. I firmly believe it was the power of my faith.” Michael Bennett can tell you exactly where he was the day he decided to go see a therapist. He knows the exact time. When he made that phone call, he immediately felt like a fifty-thousand-pound burden had been lifted off of him.

“This was about twelve to thirteen years ago,” he continued. “I credit a lady who was a good friend of mine. Her son and my son were very close friends. She started talking to me about how I was suffering from depression just as she had. Here was someone I trusted who had suffered just as I was suffering. She gave me the name and number of her personal therapist. That did it for me.”

Michael went through the usual series of prescribed counseling sessions. For the first year, he would just go in and sit and not say anything. He wondered what in the world he was doing there. Then, his natural frugalness kicked in. He started worrying that he was wasting money by just sitting there like a zombie during these sessions. He told himself, “Don’t waste money—talk.” Initially, his counselor would just ask him questions and wait him out for answers. She didn’t force Michael to talk. She said she was there to help him whenever he wanted her help.

Slowly but surely, the counselor started suggesting more things, and Michael started opening up. She suggested going to a psychiatrist who could prescribe medication. Michael agreed, and the medication immediately helped. He was on medication for five or six years. He tried to discontinue the pills for a time but found out he needed to go back on them just a few months later. That happens a lot in depression treatment. There’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of recurring frustrations when dealing with unmapped areas of the human mind.

Successful treatment of depression requires a team-oriented approach. If not a village, at least an outpost or two. Michael has had two fantastic therapists. He thinks his endocrinologist walks on water. It took a while, but he thinks he’s also found the psychiatrist who fits him the best—someone with more of a holistic treatment approach. “Medication can be quite helpful, but why not supplement it with other methods as well?” he pointed out. “Just because you’re dealing with a mental illness, doesn’t mean you neglect the other physical aspects of your overall health.”

So why open up now about all of this? Why share his story when he knows the stigma associated with telling it could possibly alter the way people choose to interact with him, or worse—sabotage his career? Two recent encounters shaped his decision.

The first one was with Cameron Mills, the former UK Basketball star and current radio media personality. Earlier this spring, Cameron appeared on Michael’s show as an impromptu guest.

“For a while I’ve thought about talking about my daily struggles on the air,” Michael explained. “For some reason, Cameron and I just kind of clicked. This happened to be the day that Anthony Bourdain, the famous chef, committed suicide. I was going to bring it up as one of my topics, and Cameron beat me to the punch. Cameron told me that it was something we don’t talk enough about, and he confessed that he himself had struggled with opioids while trying to recover from a back injury. When he admitted that on the air. I’m like ‘wow, this is the perfect time.’ I told him right then that I struggle with anxiety and depression—anxiety all my life and depression for the last 18 years. Then we kind of both looked at each other and said, ‘OK we need to talk about this.’ So that day we didn’t hardly talk about sports at all. That was a breaking point for me. Wow, I really admitted it. I admitted it on air…I admitted something that’s very private. And now I’m learning that it can’t be private. So many people are out there struggling that maybe as you said—and it hit me hard when you said it—we can do some good. I thank Cameron Mills for that.”

The second encounter involved overcoming the shame and embarrassment of admitting his struggles directly with people at work. Understand that Michael and Shannon, his co-host, have become really good friends through the show. “I’m leaving the studio after doing the show one day, and I told Shannon that you wanted to talk to me,” Michael said. “I confessed to Shannon that I suffered from anxiety and depression, and that you wanted to interview me about it. Please understand that I was hesitant to tell anybody at work about this because of how it may affect my job. I know in the past that depression has cost me parts of my career.”

Shannon—as he is apt to do a lot—said something that resonated with Michael. He said there may actually be a lot of sympathizers out there, and that getting the story out might just help a lot more of those people who are struggling. “Shannon’s a smart guy,” Michael continued. “He thought this could serve as a turning point for me if I shared it in the right way. He recommended that I do it. He said, ‘Michael, you’ve been successful in life. You’ve made money. It’s hard to believe someone of your stature—you have a beautiful home, you have a beautiful family—could be depressed. How is that? People need to know.”

To many of his listeners, Michael Bennett does appear to have it all. “I’ll tell you right now, I could give it all away if I could to be with my mom again,” he sadly acknowledged.

Commonwealth Stadium holds some incredible memories for Michael Bennett. He points to the corner where he and his family have sat for the past thirty-five years. He tells me he frequently comes here to relax more than anywhere else on campus. It’s a beautiful day, and we’re sitting in this incredible football stadium…and yet there are days where Michael would rather be sitting in his bedroom at home doing nothing. Sometimes, it still takes everything he has just to go outside. That’s the part of depression and mental illness people still can’t understand. It’s brutal, it’s sad, and it really could happen to anyone.

Although things are better now for Michael, depression never completely disappears. It’s always lurking, relentless, ruthless and sneaky, prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Michael still struggles whenever his boys, now both in college, go back to school. “I have struggled with thoughts of suicide,” Michael sheepishly confessed. “That may be a little too much for you there, but I have. I haven’t gone out and sought to do it. I’ve gone through programs within Baptist Hospital in Louisville that have helped me out quite a bit. But I still get depressed. I still go through periods of anxiety—like when it’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I have to prepare for tomorrow’s show.”

So, what’s up next for Michael Bennett? He’s excited for what the future holds. A lot has transpired in the last eighteen months alone. Last spring, Michael was sitting at the Hooters on Johns Pass, in Madeira Beach, Florida—five minutes from his family home. He’d been in medical sales his entire professional career, and he’d been thinking of what else he could do for the rest of his life. For twenty-five years, he’d been rather successful, calling on orthopedic and neural surgeons, and selling spinal implants. Then depression kicked in, he stopped working, his company wasn’t happy, and he lost his job.

Out of the blue, Michael decided he wanted to host a radio show. Three months later, he’s in contact with people like Mike Pratt setting the wheels in motion. Kyle Macy then signs on for a stint as co-host, and the show is off and running. Next thing you know, he’s got Shannon “The Dude” for his producer and sidekick, as fans tune in and ratings take flight.

“That’s my dream coming true—being able to be a part of a university that I love—that’s near and dear to my heart,” Michael gushed. “Helping it out as much as I can. Promoting this university and the good people surrounding this university. That’s a dream come true.”

For anyone affected by the ravages of depressive disorders, that’s music to our ears. Godspeed, “jolly” Michael Bennett. May your road to recovery be filled with many more carefree days, bowl wins, and national championships.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and a volunteer teacher for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). He currently serves as a sports columnist for Nolan Media Group. If you enjoy his writing, you can reach him at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

If you, or someone you know, is suffering from depression and mental illness, please don’t hesitate to seek immediate help. Don’t know where to start? Check out your local NAMI chapter https://www.nami.org/ for resources and contacts.

As Good As It Gets

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, nothing stokes the fires of passion more than a highly ranked basketball team. This year’s no different as John Calipari has once again reloaded his roster for another championship run. Most preseason rankings have the Wildcats near or at the top of the polls. If the Blue-White scrimmage was any indication—then death, taxes, and the Basketball Cats being good are certainties that have become par for the course.

But whoa—look what else is good this year. Kentucky Football is now 6-1 and in the hunt for an elusive SEC crown. A victory next week against the Missouri Tigers sets up a titanic showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs that might just determine who plays for the league title in Atlanta. For True Blue Kentucky fans, this is rarefied air. For since when have both basketball and football been this good together at the exact same time?

The closest it’s ever come in my lifetime was back in the 1977-78 season when the basketball team won the National Championship while the football team went 10-1. “Goose” Givens and teammates were the big men on campus in ’78. Unfortunately, Art Still and the gridiron Cats were on probation the year before, so there was never really a chance for two-pronged postseason prominence.

How about…in 1984? The football team, coached by Jerry Claiborne, achieved a #19 national ranking, while their basketball brethren, under Joe B. Hall made it to another Final Four. As much as we all enjoyed that year, Hall of Fame Bowl victories over Wisconsin and flameouts to Georgetown in the national semifinals just won’t quite cut the mustard for all-time runs.

How about…in 1998? Tubby’s Comeback Cats won the title in San Antonio that spring, while Tim Couch and the football team played in the Outback Bowl on the following New Year’s Day? National Championship #7 in basketball certainly fit the bill, but a 7-5 football season and a bowl game loss really can’t qualify for the best of all time.

How about 2007-08, you say? For long-suffering football fan bases, upsets against #1 ranked teams such as LSU don’t come along very often, nor do all-time studs like Andre’ Woodson, Rafael Little, Keenan Burton, and Jacob Tamme. But neither do UK basketball coaches like Billy Gillispie. Enough said about that one.

So, how about…never? Usually by the time Big Blue Madness rolls around, the football team has unceremoniously self-destructed. Leaves changing color and clocks rolling back are sure fire signals for rabid Cat fans to head for the hardwood. Forget about tailgating and touchdowns. Bring on dazzling dunks and Dan Dakich. Come Halloween, football becomes an afterthought as basketball reigns supreme.

Success in both sports? Truth be told, it’s what we’ve been waiting for all these years. Whether Benny or Brad, C.J. or PJ, Terry or Tyler, Kentucky fans have been aching for such long-awaited prosperity. Must-win football games week after week intermingled with impending basketball Armageddon with Duke is a veritable dream come true. Throw in a few swaggy head coach press conferences, some animated radio call-in shows, and some spirited practice highlight videos and you’ve got the makings of a Big Blue November nuclear meltdown. My ticker can’t handle such an all-out, twofold assault.

Can such dual success happen here at Kentucky? Sure it can—but it’s rare for both football and basketball to be good at any school for any consistent period of time. In this century, the University of Florida is the only school to have won a national title in each. For the record, the Gators have two apiece. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Louisville, and Michigan State are in hot pursuit, also laying claim to dual sport affluence.

Kentucky Basketball can win it all for sure this year, but it’s WAY too much of a stretch to think the Football Cats are in the hunt for a national crown. Or is it? For the moment, just guarantee me a spot against the Crimson Tide in Catlanta, and you won’t hear me whining about football ever again. The point being that it’s rare we get to enjoy such a one-two punch this late into the Stoops’ Troop season with such high expectations still looming for Calipari’s Cats.

Enjoy this ride of a lifetime, Wildcat fans. Take it from me—savor these precious moments. As much as I hate to say it, past history indicates that this might be as good as it gets for a long, long time.

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Media Group and a lifelong Wildcat fan. He’s currently working with former LEX18 sportscaster Alan Cutler on his new book. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals and other professional sports coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang

I Love My Team

Although we didn’t hear him say it directly, John Calipari apparently still loves his team. During the most recent Kentucky Basketball Media Day, the UK head man repeatedly professed his adoration for his talented squad of young superstars. Just as he did with John Wall, Anthony Davis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Tyler Ulis, Coach Cal waxed eloquently about the merits of this year’s Wildcats—hereby officially sending fan expectations soaring into the Big Blue stratosphere.

“When you don’t have to coach effort,” Cal said. “When you don’t have to coach the enthusiasm, the passion you have to play with. When you don’t have to coach a competitive spirit…I don’t have to coach that with this team. So now you know what you’re coaching? Basketball. So now you coach basketball. And I love coaching basketball.”

Before you start making reservations for the Final Four in Minneapolis, realize that Cal’s teams haven’t always matched up to the preseason hype. The 2013 NIT team—with the unfortunate injury to Nerlins Noel—obviously fell short of True Blue expectations. Other Calipari teams–such as his most recent one featuring Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander—simply ended up lacking the star power needed to make a significant run. The point being that star-studded recruiting classes don’t automatically translate into national championship juggernauts right out of the gate.

Don’t worry, though—I’m not pooping on this year’s parade. This mix of mega-talented recruits and critical returning lettermen appear to be on par with Coach Cal’s best Kentucky team to date—the 2015 thirty-eight and one group that fell just a couple of games short of perfection. Why is this current team potentially as good as that one? Let me count the ways.

First of all, the return of PJ Washington is HUGE. The 6’8”, 228-lb power forward declared for the 2018 NBA draft, but decided to come back to school not only to improve his draft stock (and free throw shooting), but with the hopes of winning a national championship. After leading the team in rebounding and averaging double figures in scoring last year, PJ gives the Cats the bona fide, experienced leader they so desperately need. Together with a new and improved, rim-protecting Nick Richards, Kentucky’s inside presence suddenly moves from liability to strength.

Adding to that presence, graduate transfer Reid Travis joins the party. Talk about a fortunate get. The First Team All-Conference selection averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds last year playing for Stanford in the highly competitive Pac-12. Not only is Reid an experienced and skilled low-post player, but he’s also one of the most articulate interviews I’ve ever encountered. His pre and postgame eloquence will be worth five points alone. I’ll look forward to some verbal sparring with him in the season to come.

Shooting has always been one of Team Calipari’s bugaboos. Cal’s first Kentucky team, the 2010 squad, was arguably his best. But they couldn’t throw it in the ocean and ultimately fell victim to West Virginia in the regional finals. You might say that outside of Doron Lamb and Devin Booker (for about a month), Calipari really hasn’t had the benefit of any dead-eye shooters.

All that promises to change this year. Word has it that Jemarl Baker Jr., if he ever gets a clean bill of health, will be as accurate a knock-down shooter as anyone who has previously worn the blue and white. Tyler Herro, who’s sure to be a fan favorite, and returning sophomore guard Quade Green, have also both shown that they can consistently tickle the three-point twine. Gone are the days of opponents cheating down low, daring Wildcat bricklayers to chuck up air balls.

So far, so good you say? I haven’t even mentioned the most explosive portion of Kentucky’s arsenal. Incoming freshman Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, EJ Montgomery, and Keldon Johnson are all multi-talented five-stars that can run, jump, pass, and shoot. Of the four, Johnson comes in with most hype, but all of them may be talented enough to enter the pantheon of John Calipari’s growing list of one and dones.

It gets even better. All those guys take pride in their defense—being able to hassle you endlessly to the point of despair. “Ashton is a pit bull, a mauler on the ball,” Calipari gushed. “You can play he and Immanuel together. Tyler’s better than I thought he was. I thought Keldon would be better than Tyler defensively, but I’m not sure of that. And our big guys can guard guards, so we can switch everything, we can scramble around, we can still press. There’s a lot of stuff we’re going to be able to do.”

One final point to get you salivating. Everyone knows how important team chemistry is. Elite and talented superstar teams with infighting and jealousies seldom taste success. Initial reports indicate that this year’s team is feasting on brotherhood. Calipari’s servant leadership lessons have already taken hold. Throw in their on-the-court jump start with the Bahamas exhibitions, and you’ve got the makings of one of the most exciting and fun-to-watch UK teams ever assembled. A legitimate run towards Championship Number Nine should be anticipated and expected.

Will it happen? It’s still a bit too early to tell. But from what I’ve seen and heard so far, they’ve got as good of a chance as anyone. With a couple of favorable breaks, Minneapolis in April seems like a distinct possibility.

“Well, if this team becomes empowered and it becomes their team, then this becomes scary,” Cal warned. Come to think of it, you might just want to make those hotel reservations after all.

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Media Group, Bluegrass Sports Nation, and Sports View America. He’s currently working with former LEX18 Sportscaster Alan Cutler on his new book. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals and other professional sports coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang

Ben and Jerry’s

When it comes to food worship, everyone has an idol. For many, a juicy steak paired with a properly aged Cabernet Sauvignon is what drops you to your knees. For others, it may be freshly grilled Maine lobster that triggers a Damascus Road conversion experience. Still others bow down to the golden altar of french fries, chicken wings, and barbecue brisket.

Whatever your individual heart may desire, there’s one food that’s sure to be found behind St. Peter’s heavenly gates. It’s sweeter than salvation and purer than silver or gold. It’s like a lamp to your feet and a light for your path, with flavors as sharp as a double-edged sword.

What is this heavenly nectar, you ask—a food so universally praised, exalted, and glorified by both the calorie conscious and lactose intolerant? I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream—OF COURSE!

With that said, I’m going in search of the holy grail of dairy delights…and where better to make my sacred pilgrimage than to the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury, Vermont. This ain’t no Baskin Robbins castoff. No, this is the real thing—a 900-mile journey to the birthplace of Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey.

In the interest of full disclosure, I know I’m heading up to the Green Mountain State right smack dab in the middle of leaf viewing season—but that’s neither here nor there. I assure you that my search for spiritual nirvana and the salve for my sweet tooth remains my singular focus. I’m also fully prepared—armed with the proper discipline, metabolism, and genetic make-up to survive any thousand calorie assault on my cholesterol count and waistline. Bring it on!

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but I was a bit disillusioned pulling into the factory grounds. When one approaches Mecca, you anticipate enlightenment—or at least neon signs, costumed characters, and a shuttle ride to the shrine entrance. Instead, all I was greeted with was a packed parking lot and a 50-yard trek up to the summit mount.

Once crested, I was met with a veritable madhouse of lost souls, all looking to gain entry into the temple of delight. The line for tickets was longer than eternal damnation. Undaunted, I bite the bullet and settle in for the hour-long wait for my ascent into paradise. Paradise today is relatively affordable. For four dollars a pop, I watch a movie where Ben and Jerry convince me that eating their ice cream makes me the most environmentally friendly, socially conscious, and charitably generous consumer ever to grace the planet. I’m then given a sneak peek behind the veil, where I’m treated to more than I want to know about what really goes into my ice cream.

At the end of the tour, our tour guide—who had obviously given one tour too many—delivers four bad cow jokes before serving the requisite samples to the masses. The flavor of the day involved some foreign concoction right off the assembly line—a strange blend of chocolate and orange that left my taste buds frazzled and my mind totally perplexed and confused.

Was this all there was to it? Had I been hoodwinked into false belief? Were the Ben & Jerry cows really just golden calves? Where were the baptismal vaults of my favorite Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch? Was it truly a flavor forever dead and buried—never to be resurrected?

The only way to seek truth was to taste it. Making my way to the holy kiosk, I go all out and do something I’ve never done before. I order a quintuple scoop. Diabetic coma be damned. You only live once, right? If my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, I’m filling it with caramel swirls and cookie dough.

Obviously, this ordeal did not end well. Excessive pursuits never do. Like many other things in life, moderation is the key. I REPENT! Next time I get a hankering for Ben & Jerry’s, there will be no thousand-mile sojourn to the promised land. A five-minute drive to Kroger is all I’ll ever need. Haagen-Dazs anyone?

John Huang is a retired orthodontist who worships both God and ice cream. He’s currently working with former LEX18 sportscaster Alan Cutler on his new book. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals and other professional sports coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang

 

 

Dancing in The Swamp

(GAINESVILLE, Fl.) – Where were you the night of September 8, 2018? Like the moon landing, the Challenger explosion, and the Laettner shot, all of BBN will now remember where they were and who they were with when Kentucky Football finally broke the interminable 31-year losing streak against those haughty Florida Gators.

Hopefully you were either at the game or watching on TV late Saturday night as the Wildcats exorcised the ghosts of heartbreaks past by finally capturing that elusive win. You knew the streak had to end sometime, right? After all, who loses thirty-two games in a row to anybody in anything?

For all their loyal, die-hard, never-say-quit fans, “Kentucky 27, Florida 16” never sounded so sweet. To any and all who have suffered through those last-second Florida touchdowns, those ever-present botched coverages, those mysterious phantom penalties, those inopportune turnovers, that bizarrely frustrating clock management, or those inexplicable extra celestial meltdowns—this one’s for you.

Enjoy it—because it’s arguably one of the greatest victories in UK Football lore. Granted, as with any emotional win, we’ll need the benefit of hindsight to rightfully judge. But looking back, will this streak buster be the biggest win ever in program history?

“It was a great win, a breath of fresh air no doubt, dramatically needed for Mark Stoops era,” said Oscar Combs, the torchbearer for chronicling UK sports in my lifetime as a fan. “But I’d like to think wins over No. 1 ranked teams and Top 10 victories are bigger. If this should spur UK to a history-making season in 2018, I would agree. Games left to play yet.”

Larry Vaught, another giant of Kentucky sports journalism weighed in similarly. “It was big, but that win over eventual national champion LSU was big too,” he said.

Either way, I’m sure Larry and Oscar would agree that debating momentous UK victories beats the heck out of arguing about soul-deflating defeats.

For me personally, my trip down to Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was a life altering experience. As a long-suffering Kentucky football fan, I was fully expecting ground zero of Gator Nation to be a life-draining experience. However, in a completely unexpected twist of fate, the Wildcat’s upset over heavily favored Florida at “The Swamp” morphed into a night that karma came a knocking. It sucked the life right out of the Gator football team and sent a large segment of Gator Nation into a dungeon of despair. “Well, there’s always basketball and baseball,” said one dejected fan leaving the stadium.

I don’t mean to gloat—but remember—these are the same fans, when asked over the years what they respected about Kentucky Football, disdainfully replied, “Punting and tailgating.” Well, a mid-afternoon torrential downpour kept the tailgating in check, putting a definite damper on those dismissive fans anticipating another mouth-watering Wildcat barbecue. As they filed out of the stadium in utter humiliation, their Tim Tebow statue stood sentinel-like, silently apoplectic over the Cat’s current coronation.

Immediately after the final horn sounded, I high-tailed it down for the postgame celebration. It’s usually hot and humid at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, often unbearably so. The iconic structure was originally built in a sinkhole, so the playing field is below ground level. Steep stands ratchet up on nearly all sides, trapping not only the heat and humidity, but the crowd noise inside the stadium as well. On this glorious night, as Benny Snell, Jr. saluted the crowd, only Kentucky faithful were left making any noise. With temperatures in the mid-seventies and a refreshing tropical breeze, the setting was magical (and the punting still sublime).

There’s nothing like the feeling of redemption after these big wins. Unfortunately for Kentucky football fans, those feelings are too few and far between. So, whether you’re gloating, reveling, or just downright giddy, savor it thoroughly because—as we all know—there may not be another one for a while. But realize also, it’s only because we’re Wildcat football fans that these seminal moments remain so scintillating. It’s impossible to feel the ecstasy unless you’ve fully experienced our agony.

Benny said it best at the postgame presser, summing up the emotions of a euphoric Big Blue Nation. “There’s no feeling like this,” he gushed. “During the week, I was just thinking about the moment the game ended—all the fans leaving. It was what I dreamed about, you know what I’m saying? It was the best feeling in the world. I can barely talk, I’m so happy.”

Me too, Benny. So much so that I’m going dancing in “The Swamp.”

How Kentucky responds from here will ultimately determine the significance of this win. For a team that can still lose to anybody remaining on the schedule, the upcoming home game versus Murray State is about as automatic as a win can get. The Racers come in at 0-2, having lost to Southern Illinois 49-10 and Central Arkansas 26-13. They’ll be no let down on Saturday, as there’s just way too much at stake for the season at hand. Kentucky 43, Murray State 10.

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. He’s currently working with former LEX18 sportscaster Alan Cutler on his new book. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals and other professional sports coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang

 

 

 

What if Joel Osteen Coached Kentucky Football?

Joel Osteen, megachurch pastor in Houston Texas, is a popular man. His inspirational books and TV sermons have impacted countless individuals worldwide. With his dark flowing hair, fluttering eyes, and pearly white teeth, he’s a consummate modern-day TV evangelist—with over 8.5 million Twitter followers drinking from his prosperity well.

Mark Stoops, head football coach at the University of Kentucky, is a cautious man. Beginning his sixth year at the Wildcat helm, he realizes that hope springs eternal this time of the year in the hearts of all Kentucky faithful. With his balding pate, stocky build, and unflinching demeanor, he looks the part of a football coach as he parcels out his words carefully to the media masses.

Nowhere was that more evident than in Stoops’ press conference on Monday prior to the upcoming season opener. He seemed more reserved than usual, unwilling to be goaded into setting expectations too high. Coincidentally, I’ve sensed a similar caution among all of BBN this year, as if they’re preparing themselves for a mediocre season. After all the botched coverages, bumbling refs, and Gator chomps in years past, who can blame them for being a bit exasperated?

The Kentucky fan base needs a shot of positive adrenaline, and who better to provide it than Joel Osteen. He’s probably too comfortable to take a pay cut, but what if he signed on to coach UK Football? One thing’s for sure—the press conferences would take on an entirely heavenly aura.

The following Mark Stoops answers are actual quotes taken from his Monday press conference. The following Joel Osteen quotes are fake but should be read out loud with a ‘Joel Osteen’ voice.

What Mark Stoops said about the quarterback competition: Terry Wilson will open up game one as the starter. He’s won the quarterback battle. It has been an on-going battle, as you know. I have great respect for all of our quarterbacks. I feel like we have a great quarterback room. With the other quarterbacks, with Gunnar and Danny in particular, they’ve put up a great fight and they’ve done a lot of things in a lot of ways to win the job as well.

What Joel Osteen would have said: I anoint Terry Wilson as the starter this weekend. He is my quarterback, and with him I am well pleased. He’s the son of the most high God. With Touchdown Terry, we may just go undefeated this year. After all, if God be for us, who can be against us? But lest you forget, God created the big picture. And he’s positioning both Gunnar and Danny—as valuable, noble, and worthy reserves—to carry out His divine purpose for our team. BBN needs to trust in me knowing that I’m ordering their very steps.

What Mark Stoops said about Central Michigan: They’re used to playing very good football teams. They’re a winning program. I believe they won eight last year, 8-5 last year. They’re a good football team that’s well coached. They do a very good job of not beating themselves and kind of sticking to what they do and play it well.

What Joel Osteen would have said: The enemy has a good football team. We must be on guard against the enemy. But God’s favor on our team will cause us to accomplish more than them. His blessing will bring divine receptions. If we have enough faith, he’ll guide that football right into our hands. All we’ll have to do is hold on.

What Mark Stoops said about the ‘unknowns’ regarding his team entering the season opener: I can’t answer that. It’s an unknown because you don’t know what’s going to happen. If I knew something about it, I’d try to head it off. I do appreciate your effort, though. You always do a good job of trying to get me. (He chuckles and nods at me.)

What Joel Osteen would have said: Brothers and sisters, don’t worry about unknowns. The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. Worry is a thief. If you allow it, worry will rob you of your destiny. Do yourself a favor and put God back on the throne. (He flutters his eyes and points upward)

What Mark Stoops said about the attendance at Kroger Field: I’m very, super appreciative of the people that are coming because we need them, and we need the atmosphere and encourage all folks that we need all hands on deck because it makes a difference…so we need some people there, and I appreciate the people that are coming because I realize it takes a lot.  

What Joel Osteen would have said: The things that seem impossible to you, God is saying, “Look again. I’m working behind the scenes to fill those seats.” This is not the time to get discouraged. This is not the time to let circumstance get you down. Mitch Barnhart, this is not the time to raise ticket prices. You’re closer to your sellout than you think. With man, this is impossible; but with God, all things are possible.

What Mark Stoops said about the success of the walk-ons: We’ve been pleased. I am proud that we’ve had quite a few guys that have been walk-ons and earned scholarships and contributed to the football team.

What Joel Osteen would have said:  Even walk-ons are made in the image of almighty God. They all have seeds of greatness. David Bouvier is full of talent and creativity. Miles Butler was created to kick, to accomplish his dreams, and to finally earn that heavenly scholarship.

Well there you have it—the Big Blue prosperity gospel according to Coach Osteen. Whether talking free safety or free will, false prophets or false starts, spiritual conversion or two-point conversion, his prayers are always welcome for this Kentucky team. They’ll certainly need God’s favor to spring an upset or two along their difficult journey. The excitement starts this Saturday. Joel Osteen talked a good talk, but I’m putting my trust in Mark Stoops. Kentucky 31, Central Michigan 17.

John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Media Group, Bluegrass Sports Nation, and Sports View America. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/

Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals and other professional sports coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang