It’s Time To Dress It Up

It’s Time To Dress It Up

If the suit makes the man, then Coach John Calipari hasn’t been much of a man this year.

I’ll readily admit that I’m no fashionista. Although my hat game was strong during the ponytail era, I’ve never ever owned Armani suits or donned Gucci shoes. I do believe, however, in dressing for success.

That’s why, as an orthodontist, I usually attended patient consultations in a coat and tie. And why, in the early years of my new media gig covering sporting events, I frequently showed up in a three-piece suit. I wanted to represent my practice—and subsequently the media outlets for whom I wrote—in the most professional light possible in front of my patients, peers, and business clients.

I realize that coaching basketball games is different from working in a clinic, bank, or on Wall Street—but the optics of representing your company, your organization, or your university in a professional manner remain exactly the same. How you look matters. If you appear at company sponsored events unkempt and sloppily dressed, that’s a poor reflection of the people you represent.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that for the past few games, Coach John Calipari has been casually attired in a sport coat while ranting on the sidelines. Mind you, this was an actual upgrade from the track suit he wore during much of the preconference slate. To the chagrin of many in BBN, both blazer and windbreaker are no substitute for the regal pin-striped suit and tie we were all accustomed to seeing in years past.

I’m not saying the team struggles this year are directly related to the missing suit and tie on the sidelines, but as long as we’re all piling on, I thought I’d add fuel to the file.

Granted, Calipari is just a basketball coach, but he’s also the most famous face associated with the University of Kentucky. Just as you wouldn’t expect the leader of the free world to conduct business in sweats and tennis shoes, you shouldn’t expect the coach in charge of the program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball to be sloppily attired either—especially since his image is so prominently displayed across countless media platforms.

I’ve always perceived Coach Cal to be more image conscious than he lets on. Frankly, I was surprised he chucked his customary and formal game-time threads. Was it just a matter of a Covid-19 blip, or had he finally abandoned style for comfort in his old age? How does he feel coaches should be dressed on the sidelines?

“I would tell you whatever makes them comfortable,” he answered when I asked him directly. “No, I won’t do any suit and tie. But I needed to feel like I was coaching again. And I was kind of feeling like this was all pick-up basketball. I wanted to feel like I was coaching. That’s why I did it. I didn’t do it for any other reason. But I would tell any coach, ‘whatever makes you comfortable.’ Coaches dress different. If they’re comfortable in a sweat suit or a t-shirt or a pullover shirt, be comfortable. I’m just more comfortable with a sport coat and a pair of jeans—which is what I’ve been wearing.”

For all I care, Calipari can wear a bathrobe and bunny slippers during his time away from the university. But when he’s on company time—i.e. coaching during games—he needs to be attired professionally. I’d prefer the sartorial splendor of a Jay Wright or Jerry Stackhouse every single night, but I guess I can live with the sport coat and slacks. Just please don’t regress to Huggy Bear sweats or Mike Brey shorts.

On the Women’s Basketball side, I have no complaints. Former head coach Matthew Mitchell was certainly GQ worthy while strolling the sidelines. Current head coach Kyra Elzy continues the tradition by knocking it out of the park. Just like Coach Cal, however, when it comes down to what to wear during games, the first-year head coach feels as if it’s to each their own.

“As far as how people are dressed, it’s up to each individual,” Elzy explained. “To coach good, you want to feel good. You just wear what you’re comfortable with…I’m not dressing any different than I normally dress. Thank you for everybody watching.”

And therein lies the key. Remember, everybody’s watching. You’re a professional, a mentor to future generations, and a representative of the state university. Act like one. Be like one. Look like one. It matters more than you think.

Ding, Dong, the Ponytail’s Gone!

Ding, Dong, the Ponytail’s Gone!

There are a ton of subjects I thought about discussing to kick off the new year. After all, 2020 was a year like no other. Politics, pandemonium, and a pandemic all setting the stage for a perfect storm of philosophical whining.

So, after much deliberation, I’ve decided to talk about something everybody has an opinion on…OUR HAIR. Don’t scoff. Regardless of your current lot in life, the reality is that a bad hair day can make you or break you. Just ask James Dean, Farrah Fawcett, or Bo Derek. Good hair launched their Hollywood careers.

The amount of money spent every year on hair conditioning products is mind boggling. Brittle hair, dry hair, frizzy hair, greasy hair—enough potential problems to give everyone gray hairs. And that’s just the minor stuff. In the state of Kentucky, hair restoration is big business. We hate bald spots and receding hairlines as much as we abhor hair-brained basketball.

For the last five years, I’ve worn my hair in an unconventional ponytail. To commemorate the end of a hair-raising 2020, I’m ringing in 2021 with a brand-new look. I’m sending the ponytail packing.

Here are five good (or not so good reasons) why I did it.

1. Breaking into the UK Media market

The University of Kentucky media beat is ridiculously crowded. When I first started out back in 2014, it was also fairly homogeneous. I watched sports-obsessed stalwarts like Oscar Combs, Alan Cutler, and Larry Vaught peppering Coach John Calipari with all sorts of insightful questions. I knew I had to stand out in some way to get noticed. Being Asian helped. Being an Asian guy with a ponytail would surely turn some heads. It worked. Oscar invited me onto his podcast Episode 60 – Conversations with Oscar Combs – John Huang – OscarCombs.com , and we’ve become close friends ever since. I ended up writing a book with Cutler https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GTJ2DSC . And Coach Cal has called me out on several occasions for asking all sorts of weird questions. Mission accomplished.

2. Being the hippie I always wanted to be

I always thought ponytails were cool. Think Brad Pitt, or Roger Federer, or John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. If those guys walk into a restaurant like they own the place, they’ll be treated to the best seat in the house. Unfortunately, that never worked for me. With Covid-19 raging all around us, who spends time even eating in restaurants? Not me. Not cool. No need for ponytail.

3. I’m not your daddy 

There was a time when people thought my brother, Michael, and I looked alike. Granted, he still looks thirty years old. Me—not so much. That hair pulled back off my forehead aged me twenty years. When one of Michael’s friends asked me if I was his dad, that was the final straw. Scissors, please.

4. Boys don’t have ponytails

“Girls have ponytails. Boys don’t have ponytails,” said my five-year-old nephew Gabriel. In my case, the kid was right. The apparent gender ambiguity—especially behind a COVID-19 face covering—was what broke the camel’s back. It’s always a bit disturbing being called “Mam” by the Kroger checkout cashier. I immediately made a beeline for the Great Clips next door—and twenty minutes later, the ponytail was history.

5. Time heals a lot of wounds

Since my mom died in 2014, getting haircuts has always been a bit of a spiritual experience for me. I wrote about it in a previous blog post https://huangswhinings.com/2016/04/26/mah-mah/ . You see, my mom cut my hair throughout my entire life. I think one of the reasons I grew my hair long was because I missed having her cut it. I still miss my mom…but it’s time to move on.

The old has gone, the new has come.

Happy New Year, everyone!

(Man, I’m so good looking.)

When it Comes to Getting the Coronavirus Vaccine, Should Kentucky Basketball Players Cut Line?

When it Comes to Getting the Coronavirus Vaccine, Should Kentucky Basketball Players Cut Line?

The one thing we all agree on as a cultured society is that there’s a special place in Hell awaiting those who cut in line. We’ve all experienced it. You’re queued up at Kroger, or at the airport check-in counter, or ready to board a Disney World ride after a two-hour wait…and some goober with a FastPass suddenly bolts right in front of you.

Whether it’s a bathroom line—and you REALLY need to go—or you’re stuck in construction traffic and some idiot on a cellphone zips past you for a last-minute merge, alarms go off in our head warning us that we’ve somehow just been screwed.

Your blood pressure goes up. You stare at the perpetrators with disdain. You question when the cosmic laws of karma will finally kick in and teach these elitist snobs a lesson they’ll never forget.

This immutable law of “waiting your turn in line” was exactly why Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari was so quick to clarify his statements the other day regarding his players getting preferential treatment during the Covid crisis.

“The safest place for all these athletes is on our campuses,” Calipari said initially when asked about the possibility of a shutdown to the basketball season. “Most of us have hospitals, whether they’re in our town or somewhere close by, if something does happen. And they move to the front of the line and get the best care.

That’s not breaking news. We’re all accepting of the fact that UK basketball players are treated by a different standard than the rest of us commoners. They’re coddled, pampered, and often worshipped like deities. First-class charter flights, five-star hotels, and the best medical care that money can buy. It’s all part of the scholarship package enticing them to come.

That’s not all. If they come to UK, these players will never have to wait for a table at a restaurant either. The occasional comped meal, front-row concert tickets, and all the swag you care to muster are simply par for the course—universally accepted perks for being able to dribble and shoot (although with this team, the jury is still out on whether they can indeed dribble or shoot).

So why, then, did Calipari feel the need for clarification?

“I want to be very clear,” he tweeted out shortly after he made his initial statement. “Our guys are not jumping to the front of the line if we have any health issues. I could have said it better. What I mean is these kids are better off here because of the access to our hospitals being close by and because we can monitor them as a staff.”

Say what? We all know UK basketball players go to the front of the line whenever they have health issues. So why did Calipari say they didn’t? Does he really want us to believe that Terrence Clarke had to call for an appointment when he recently tweaked his ankle? Would Olivier Sarr really have to take a number and sit in a crowded waiting room if his tooth abscessed? Of course not. When it comes to health care issues, they’re shuttled immediately to the front of the line.

With the news of the first shipments of the Coronavirus vaccine being distributed as we speak, a more pertinent medical issue popped into my head. I wondered where the current UK basketball players will rate when it comes to getting inoculated. Will they jump to the front of the line? Perhaps a better question is should they jump to the front of the line.

The answer depends on who they’re jumping over. If it’s over the first responders, other critical medical personnel, or the elderly, then the answer is a resounding “no way!” It’s crucial that our society protect those on the front lines and those who are most vulnerable. Calipari is right on point here. To jump in front of those folks would be a blatant travesty of justice. If that happens, I’ll be the first to scream in protest.

Perhaps a more difficult question is should the UK players cut in front of someone like you or me?

I’m a relatively healthy guy, but I am approaching the age of vulnerability. I’m a cancer survivor, my blood pressure and sugar levels are higher than I want them to be, and I do my share of long-distance travel on airplanes. In other words, I could really benefit from getting vaccinated, and getting vaccinated early on in the process.

But I’m also exactly the kind of guy who’ll probably get bumped by the UK players. Because in the high-stakes world of college sports, they’re deemed more valuable than an “average-Joe” like me. So they’ll most likely get their shot in the arm first.

Surprisingly, I’m OK with that. I understand that life’s not fair. It never has been, and I’ve come to accept some of life’s inequalities—especially when UK basketball players are involved. I’m even guilty of hero worship myself. When I ran my dental practice, UK players always got preferential treatment if they came to see me. It wasn’t always the right thing to do. It certainly wasn’t fair to my other patients. But it’s part of human nature. I loved my Wildcats and was always eager to show my appreciation for the pride and joy they brought me.

And I think that’s a key to this decision-making process of when the players should get vaccinated. Kentucky Basketball is important to a heck of a lot of people in the Commonwealth. It creates a lot of happiness in a year where joy is hard to find. It provides a much-needed jolt of serotonin to our dopamine deprived brains. We need the players to stay healthy so that the season can be played out. It’s important to the overall economy, but even more critical to our individual psyches.

John Calipari quips that he hasn’t been wrong since 1978. Well, he’s wrong here. His players are going to cut line when it comes to the vaccine. They already do it when it comes to other medical and social issues. In our sports-obsessed culture, they’re treated as VIPs. Most of us are fine with their preferential treatment.

Just don’t insult our intelligence by denying that it happens. 

Why I Do Stupid Things

Why I Do Stupid Things

I just returned from a grueling road trip to Columbia, Missouri. It’s the home of the University of Missouri Tigers, and my Kentucky Wildcats were matched up with them on Saturday afternoon at the midpoint of this year’s 10-game SEC gauntlet of a schedule. For the record, Kentucky laid an egg and got pummeled—but that’s not the point of this post. Or maybe it is?

The question I’ve been asked time and time again is why would a guy like me continuously invest the time and energy to follow a football team that is known for ripping your heart out year after year in the most perplexing manner possible?

Let me try to explain because I think that’s a fair question.

You see, it’s a 14-hour round trip to Columbia. The drive through the flatlands of the Midwest is ridiculously boring. The traffic around St. Louis can be stifling and the weather this time of the year is already cold and dreary. Missouri isn’t a big foodie destination either. I’m not a big fan of those cracker-crust pizzas, and the steamed dumplings in Columbia weren’t worth the bamboo chopsticks my carryout order came with. Wouldn’t my weekends be better spent working towards world peace or finding the cure for cancer?

To add to my misery, I made the trip alone. A good buddy and colleague bailed out at the last possible minute. I get that—things come up. Plus, don’t forget there’s still a pandemic going on, gas and hotels still cost money, and media outlets are more selective than ever now in who goes where.

Speaking of which, I was the only UK media person—outside of the normal UK staff and broadcasting network—to cover the game. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. It’s a whole different media world out there than it was just a few short years ago. No Herald-Leader, no Courier-Journal, no Cats Pause, no local TV stations—no nothing.

Only me. Wouldn’t it have been better to drown my sorrows from the comfort of my basement couch? Was I nuts for going?

I don’t think so…and here’s why.

It’s simple. I’m a fan. I’m no different than most of you. For die-hard Kentucky fans, it’s always about the journey rather than the destination. Sure I want Kentucky to win just as much as the next guy (probably more), but after a half century of heartbreak, I’ve finally realized that it’s not the won-loss record that ultimately tickles my fancy.

Nope, it’s the realization that—as a sports fan—regardless of the misery I may be currently experiencing, that tantalizing jolt of euphoria could be just around the corner. That game winning kick, that season-saving interception, or that once-in-a-lifetime comeback victory could be just a road trip away. AND I DON’T WANT TO MISS IT!

So I go—to out of the way places like Columbia the week before Halloween, through the backwoods of Mississippi to hamlets like Starkville, and Auburn, and Fayetteville—all because I want to witness with my own eyes the next great iconic moment in Kentucky Football history.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not equating momentous football victories with the moon landing. However, we all know that—as fans—there are certain moments that will always be a part of our hearts forever. Following the Cats to the end of the earth is part of our DNA. It’s an integral part of who we are, a perfunctory rite of passage, our unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness within our Big Blue Nation.

Because despite our travails, every once in a blue moon, we stumble upon those magical moments of heaven on earth. Like in Gainesville two years ago when Kentucky broke that 31-game losing streak against the Gators. Or like in Knoxville the weekend before last when the Cats dismantled Rocky Top and ended that ignominious 36-year losing streak.

So I’ll pack my bags, download some podcasts, and hunker down for some monotonous travel, greasy fast food, overpriced hotels, and bad football.

I know there’ll be plenty more duds like Missouri lurking in the future. But hidden among them will be those memorable gems you simply can’t miss. It’s the price you have to pay.

Trust me—it’s absolutely worth it.

The Very First Time

The Very First Time

Everyone remembers the first time you tried something, right? The first time you drove a car … the first time you fell in love … the first time you bit into a cheeseburger. How about the first time you wrote a book?

I’ve always loved to write. My dream was to write books for a living. In my previous life as an orthodontist, I never had the time. Plus, even if I did, no one wants to read about teeth.

Now in retirement, I have all the free time in the world to write about anything I want. And for my very first book project, I found the perfect subject to ensnare.

Every Kentucky Wildcat fan knows Alan Cutler. The guy was a staple over the central Kentucky sports airwaves for over four decades. During that time, as the flamboyant reporter and sports anchor of LEX18, Alan covered three UK NCAA national championships in basketball and a lot of really bad UK Football teams. Through it all, he’s still best known for chasing UK Basketball coach Billy Gillispie down the hallway on the day he was fired.

Of course, in CUT TO THE CHASE! (that title alone should win us a Pulitzer—thank you Judy Cutler), we talk all about “the chase,” but there’s A LOT more to the story than just the chase. In fact, there’s A LOT more to the entire book. Whether you’re a die-hard sports junkie, a casual UK fan, or just a citizen of the Commonwealth looking for a fantastically entertaining read, we promise you’ll enjoy this labor of love.

Enough of the preliminaries. Lets Cut To The Chase! Here are the top ten reasons to buy the book.

10. Find out what really happened on the Billy Gillispie chase. You’ll be dumbfounded when you discover the story behind the story. You gotta be kidding me.

9. Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari wrote the foreword for the book. Did you know he and Cutler first met when Calipari was an assistant coach and Cutler was working the Pittsburgh beat? Yep, there’s an interesting history between them, and Coach Cal delivers a knockout punch right out of the gate.

8. You can’t fake experience with a book like this. Alan served over three decades on the UK beat. Nearly everyone I talked to described him as “honest and tough—but fair.” Tell me what other UK sportscaster you would rather hear from. Go ahead … I’m waiting.

7. At an introductory promotional price of $19.99 ($9.99 on Kindle), it’s the bargain of the year. This isn’t some fly-by-night tabloid feature thrown together over the course of a couple of days. No—this was a passionate project from the heart, painstakingly crafted over two-and-a-half years of agonizing soul searching and research. It’s 480 glorious pages and 129 chapters (yes, you heard that right) of blood, sweat, and tears. During times of a Covid shutdown, you couldn’t ask for better in-home entertainment.

6. Facts are NOT optional. In fact, Alan drove me nuts with his incessant attention to detail. His investigative reporter work ethic made sure we fact checked every single minute detail about people, places, and conversations that occurred decades ago. For those wanting a trip down memory lane, the names, dates, times, scores, and statistics we’ve included will definitely bring the stories to life. Alan was right—the devil was in the details.

5. Alan is a great storyteller. You can’t get this type of narrative anywhere else. The guy’s loud, opinionated, arrogant, bold, and controversial—definitely NOT boring. In chapter after chapter, Alan takes you behind the scenes and leads you by hand through some of his favorite personal encounters. He gives you his take on everything from UK Football’s state of the union, to race relations, to his candid thoughts about Rick Pitino. I had no idea about the extent of their love-hate relationship. Alan’s recounting of his “fight” with Pitino outside of Memorial Coliseum is worth the price of admission. As crazy as every one of his stories appears to be, Alan claims that every single word in them is true.

4. The book sounds like Alan. Hall of Fame sportswriter Dick “Hoops” Weiss told both Alan and me that the one sure way for this book to fail was if it didn’t reflect Alan’s voice. After all, no one wants to listen to me. In order to ensure that we stayed true to everything that made Cutler so popular, we worked extra hard to make sure we captured all his mannerisms, cadences, and favorite phrases. Before even typing a word, I spent hours and hours sitting with Alan at his breakfast table just listening to him talk. The result? I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how his speaking style and dominant personality jumps off the written page.

3. The book is about more than just sports. It drills down deep into the personalities behind the athletes. You’ll still get all the often-repeated, on-the-field memories found in other UK sports books, but Alan takes you to a whole different level. King Rex crying, Sam Bowie shooting air balls, why Bill Curry flopped, Dick Enberg’s socks—every single chapter packed full of emotion, humor, and never-before-told tales from Alan’s personal perspective. 

2. Did I mention the book is about more than just sports? It’s about life—and how a self-proclaimed, big-mouth, hot shot New Yorker came to love his Old Kentucky Home. Spoiler alert: There’s even a personal love story hidden in there somewhere if you can believe it.

AND THE NUMBER ONE REASON TO BUY THE BOOK…

1. It’s my first book.

Check it out at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GTJ2DSC

If you really do enjoy the book, please take the time also to write a kind review and share it with your friends. Thanks so much. It means a lot to both Alan and me.

Press Box Humor is No Joking Matter

Press Box Humor is No Joking Matter

It’s kind of scary when you think about it. In this ever-colliding world of social media and political correctness, we’re all just one mis-uttered word away from crashing and burning. Just ask Thom Brennaman.

By now, everyone has heard the replay of the Cincinnati Reds broadcaster using a homophobic slur during his call of the Reds versus Kansas City Royals game last week. The fact that Brennaman didn’t know the mic was hot doesn’t really matter. Nor does the fact that he issued an apology shortly thereafter. The damage was done. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. As far as his career with the Reds is concerned, most people I’ve talked to think he’s toast.

But should society be so quick to judge? What about forgiveness? In my new gig working with people in the broadcasting profession, I’ve learned that everyone brandishing that microphone is nowadays acutely aware of slipping up and saying something stupid, vulgar, or offensive—spewing out an on-air comment so galling that it costs them their career.

I’m not here to defend Thom, but there is a culture among media people that’s similar to a locker room. I’ve felt it personally in the press box. Everyone, including myself, wants to belong—to be accepted as one of the boys. As you know, for an announcing team to “click,” there has to be a natural camaraderie between the participants in the broadcast booth. It’s why we all tune in to Tom Leach and Jeff Piecoro calling the Kentucky games. They’ve developed that in-studio comfort level that Dick Gabriel of Big Blue Insider explained to me the other night on his show. It’s the same comfort level banter between Michael Bennett and Shannon the Dude that makes our Just the Cats hour so entertaining.

“What comes on in broadcast booths during commercial breaks is at times like a locker room,” confirmed Alan Cutler, my soon-to-be published co-author, and the former long-time host of the Cincinnati Bengals Radio Network. “Sometimes it’s very funny. And sometimes there are things said that shouldn’t be said. I’ve never heard anything like what Thom said, but I’ve heard plenty of things that NEVER could be broadcast.”

Regardless, Thom should have known better. His actions were wrong and what he said was not funny and deeply offensive. He probably got a bit too comfortable in his exalted status as Reds radio kingpin and thought he was above the law. He suddenly forgot that it’s now 2020 and not 1984. Times have changed, and multiple segments of American society remain ready to pounce at the slightest provocation. As Governor Andy has scolded us all ad nauseum during the pandemic, “You cant’ be doing that.”

So what do we make of all of this? Thom says that he’s a man of faith. So am I, and so are many of you who are reading this. Should we forgive him? The Bible tells us “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” But more importantly, it also challenges us to do better. “Let us not love with words or speech but with action and in truth,” said the Apostle John. Action and truth is the only way we can bring proper healing to this divisive mess of a country we’re in.

In his on-air apology, Thom claims that’s not who he is. Well, then show us—not with mere empty spoken words, but with sincere heartfelt action. Because we don’t really know what’s in his heart, Thom needs to do something radically productive to make a difference. He can apologize all he wants to his bosses and his fans, but he has to first reach out and embrace the LGBTQ community in some unprecedented way. He has to act in a manner which earns their forgiveness and demonstrates his repentance before a righteous God. After all, if you don’t show love to others, then you’re not a true Christ follower.

Thom has a ton of equity in the professional bank. He’s worked as a successful broadcaster for Fox Sports for nearly two decades. He has a strong family pedigree and a personal reputation to match. If he can now just humble himself to act in a fashion that earns him kudos directly from the community he has disparaged, it’ll be a heck of a lot easier for everyone else watching on the sidelines to forgive him also. If sincere, it’ll also go a long way toward personal redemption and restoring his professional life.

It’s his move. I’m hopeful he can do it. We should all be cheering him on.

Thanks to Pastor Randy Maynard for always keeping me accountable walking my talk, and for reminding me constantly of the powerful reach of a sports related platform. If you enjoy my writing, you can read more at JustTheCats.com, NolanGroupMedia.com, or follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Returning to Holy Ground

Returning to Holy Ground

This morning, I attended in-person services at church for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdown back in March. I’ll confess, it’s not the longest time I’ve been away. There have been many consecutive Sunday mornings in the past where I just decided to sleep in. There have also been times during UK Basketball season where I’ve disappeared for a few months at a time. And oh yeah, there was that decade and a half in my 20s and 30s where I didn’t go at all. But by and large—at least for the past quarter of a century—going to church on Sundays and visiting with my Centenary church family has been a pretty big deal.

So, I was excited when Centenary announced their plans to restart their on-site Sunday services on Father’s Day. In fact, I was so pumped for the re-opening that I wanted to be first in line. Here’s what it was like returning to Holy Ground.

Okay, I’d be lying (and it’s never a good idea to lie, especially while in church) if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit hesitant about coming back so quickly. As much as I hate to admit it—morbidity wise—I’m approaching that vulnerable age group deemed by the CDC to be the most susceptible to the virus.

But I figured there’ll never be a safer time to return than right now. Strict sanitation standards will surely be implemented, social distancing requirements will be rigorously enforced, and everybody present will be on high alert against coughing, sneezing, or touching their face (or anybody else’s face for that matter). Everybody has their guard up. No one wants to be the church that screws it up for everyone else.

The single church service begins at 10:30, and we’ve been told to arrive about 30 minutes early. There’s minimal traffic this morning, so I pull into the noticeably-less-than-full parking lot at just after 10. Immediately, I sense that something’s just a bit off kilter—it’s eerily quiet and a bit awkward as we all march up towards the single front entrance. After such a long absence away, we’re not quite sure how to greet each other—especially behind the veil of our protective masks.

It’s a bit surreal (I promise I won’t use that word again) walking into the building. I grab a dollop of hand sanitizer, receive my pre-packaged communion elements, and resist the temptation to violate everyone’s 6-ft bubble by shaking hands and dispensing hugs as I usually would.

Entering the front doors, I notice the narthex has been completely transformed. Gone is the comfortable seating, the free coffee, and the lively conversational cliques we’re so used to seeing on Sunday mornings. There’s no handshaking, no backslapping, no bragging about the golf game or the recent trip to Alaska. The message has been received LOUD and CLEAR: Come, worship, leave—DO NOT CONGREGATE!

It’s even more sterile within the sanctuary. The abundance of plexiglass and the roped off pews gives off a definite public vibe—as if I’m waiting in line at the post office to mail a package. The hundred-plus worshippers this morning are seated every third pew, three to a pew, with much more than the required distance of separation in between them.

The choir is noticeably absent, as are the usual number of kids and youth milling about. In fact, I’m a bit surprised at the disproportionate number of older folks like me who are filling the pews. Don’t they realize their life is in danger? I take a moment to chit chat with some familiar faces, exchange pleasantries and wave to those making eye contact, and remain poised for the sermon ahead.

The sermon by Pastor James is a good one. He talks about how God’s plans for our life are often different from our own life plans. God has a road map lined out for you, but it’s often not placed directly in front of your face. Our continued obedience and faith in God will eventually draw us close enough to view the map clearly. In the meantime, stand firm and keep trusting.

After Communion in the pews and a poignant benediction, we’re punctually dismissed. Like good soldiers committed to following Governor Andy’s rules, we file directly out of the church, into our cars, and back to our pets waiting expectantly for us at home.

Reading this narrative, you might guess I was disappointed by my lack of a familiar church experience. I mean if you have to wear face coverings, can’t hug anybody, have to sit by yourself, can’t attend Sunday school classes, and are discouraged from congregating, drinking coffee, and socializing with friends—then why come at all? Sure, the sermon was fantastic, but I could have watched it online—naked and unmasked—from the comfort of my bed.

And yet, there was something ethereal about the entire experience. It wasn’t just the taking of Communion either. Honestly, there really is a heavenly power at work when like-minded believers gather together in worship.

In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, the Apostle Paul wrote, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”

Paul was talking about the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the lives and bodies of the early Christians. For us present-day believers, as the world around us seems to be crumbling, it’s easy to forget the power that already resides within us—that same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. For me, being back together in worship this morning under one roof was a much-needed reminder of the sovereignty and dominion of God.

The good Lord designed us for relationships—affinity for Him, and connection with each other. Throughout my Christian walk, I’ve prayed until I’m blue in the face, I’ve memorized Scripture ad nauseum, I’ve listened to sermons galore. And yet, the greatest inspiration for my faith journey to date has always been the presence of other like-minded pilgrims on the same path as me. I know there’s more to genuine relationships than face-to-face interactions, but in our temporary world of quarantine and self-isolation, that presence together this morning rekindled a flickering flame.

It’s hard for me to describe the power of Christian community. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Even as I try to explain it to you, it’s a heck of a lot better if you experience it for yourself.

To God be the glory!

See you next Sunday!

Damn You, Coronavirus!

Damn You, Coronavirus!

(photo credit Bluegrass Sports Nation)

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) — Other than World War III, this current global pandemic has to be the most significant challenge we’ll face in our lifetimes. Nothing can rival the isolation, the destruction, and the fear generated by an invisible pathogen that has killed our economy, our loved ones, and our sense of security all in one fell swoop.  

Many have said that the sporting world is a microcosm of society. If that’s true, then rest assured that us die-hard sports fans are suffering through the exact same voids of discouragement and despair as the rest of the planet. COVID-19 has entered our lives like a thief in the night and robbed us of everything that we hold dear. March Madness, The Masters, and Keeneland—all gone in the blink of an eye.

As bad as it for those of us watching from the peanut gallery, imagine the anxiety of those actually in the arena. I’m not talking about the megastars of major sports like the NBA or MLB. Those guys won’t miss a beat. I’m talking about those in the trenches—the grinders who have busted tail to get where they are, only to see their hopes and dreams curtailed by an unseen enemy.

I’m talking about somebody like Chip McDaniel. The former University of Kentucky golfer was embarking on a young professional career that was headed into the stratosphere. The 24-year-old hometown hero from Manchester had turned pro in 2018, immediately made the cut in his first professional tournament at the Barbasol Championships, and then quickly followed that up with his first pro tournament win at the Governor’s Open.

If that weren’t impressive enough, McDaniel went on to finish 1st in sectional qualifying for the 2019 US Open, made the cut at Pebble Beach, and ended up finishing 78th amongst the best golfers in the world. Surviving the rigors of Q-School finals in December, McDaniel had just finished up the first six tournaments on the Korn Ferry Tour when his golfing world imploded.

“It just came to a stop,” Chip told me on a phone interview the other day. “I went from hardly being home to being home basically 24/7—which was nice for two weeks. And then it kind of set in that it wasn’t just a short break. It was definitely an adjustment for most golfers I would say.”

An adjustment is a definite understatement. Were I in Chip’s shoes, I’d be going ballistic—throwing thunderbolts of anger and loathing at the golfing gods who brought this on. To have worked so hard to get to where I’ve gotten in life, only to see everything potentially vaporized by a bat out of China would send me into bouts of depression and self-pity. Damn you, Coronavirus would be my mantra of the day.

If you know Chip, however—or the entire McDaniel clan for that matter—you know that would never be the case with him. In fact, dejection and despondency about his career was the farthest thing from his mind.

“What’s been the hardest part for me is being at home and not being able to see the people that I normally don’t get to see because I’m traveling all the time,” Chip explained. “Now it’s like I’m stuck at home, but I still can’t see them because my parents are a little paranoid that I’ll be a carrier and give it to my grandparents.”

So, what has he been doing with all this extra social distancing time? Thankfully, many of the golf courses are still open, and Chip is able to get out of his house consistently to improve his game. He’s been working diligently to get his body in better shape, to sharpen his faith, and to keep a positive attitude.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Chip explained. “I feel that this is almost so crazy that the whole country—the whole world—is on pause basically. From a career standpoint, it’s probably a better situation for me than with an injury. I think once everything goes back to normal, it’ll almost be like a restart button. I feel like that’s the only way I can think about it and just try to prepare myself for that moment that it does start to go back to normal.”

And therein lies one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard from anyone on how we should be dealing with this unwelcome interruption in our lives. Whether uber-talented professional golfer or below-average fledgling sportswriter, Chip McDaniel and I have a common Coronavirus goal. We’re both striving to emerge from this pandemic better than when we went in.

“Continue to stick to yourself,” Chip reminded me. “And try to focus on something to make yourself better when you go out. That way you distract yourself from what’s going on. And then when it’s over and everything is back to normal, you’ll be a little bit better than when it started.”

Wise words, indeed. If everyone heeds that sage advice, then we really have nothing to fear. Because if we’re all just a tiny bit better than we were before, then the world will undoubtedly be a more joyful place for everyone.

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at Nolangroupmedia.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. 

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

Kentucky’s Immanuel Quickley just did something that has never been done. The Wildcats’ sophomore guard just won his second straight SEC Player of the Week award. Immanuel’s numbers on the court this season have been supremely impressive. But it’s his faith-based leadership among his teammates that will have far more eternal significance. Here’s a sneak preview of my upcoming column appearing in the Nolan Media Group newspapers later this week.

 

Immanuel Quickley prepares faith-driven Wildcat team for postseason success

By Dr. John Huang

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – When asked what he likes about this year’s team, Coach John Calipari was quick to point out his talented backcourt trio. “I like that we’re playing three point guards,” said Kentucky’s hall of fame coach.

Although Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, and Tyrese Maxey may eventually lead Calipari’s team to another coveted national championship, there’s another trio of Wildcats who will ultimately guide them into the sacred Promised Land.

When it comes to spirituality on Kentucky Wildcat basketball teams, I don’t recall a more outwardly vocal trinity than Immanuel Quickley, Nate Sestina, and Keion Brooks. The three are part of eight scholarship players this year who are rapidly capturing the hearts of BBN.

We’re all familiar with Quickley’s story. The sophomore guard from Havre De Grace, Maryland has stated on numerous occasions how important his faith has been to him. A devout upbringing, an active church life, and studying God’s Word have been the hallmarks of his early life of piety.

“I started putting God first,” Immanuel—which means ‘God with us’—told us at a recent media session.

That means getting up early and starting off each day with a daily devotional. Having glided through the Psalms, the Gospel of Luke, and now on to the Book of Isaiah, the Wildcats’ most consistent player appears poised to finish out this season with some pretty God-sized biblical accomplishments.

“Honestly, I know why I read the Bible,” he explained. “I think just starting from the beginning and trying to read it to the end like it’s a regular book—it gives me something to look forward to. Instead of just reading random stuff, I keep building and having something to go back to.”

Immanuel’s dedication to God’s Word has not been lost on Nate Sestina, his traveling roommate on road trips. The two have developed a special bond, occasionally even delving into some deep spiritual discussions. Taking after Immanuel’s lead, the graduate transfer from Bucknell has faithfully relied on Scripture in his attempt to bolster confidence in himself.

“I follow this Bible verse very closely,” Nate shared with me after a recent practice session. “It’s Proverbs 16:3—’Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he shall establish your plans.’ I’ve actually talked to Immanuel about it. So, he likes it a lot too. But, just believing that whatever I do, that God’s got me.”

Keion Brooks is another Wildcat who’s not afraid to talk openly about his Christian faith.

“It’s extremely important to me,” the 6’7 freshman from Ft. Wayne, Indiana has admitted on several occasions. “It’s a big part of who I am.”

Brooks, when speaking to reporters, often appears reticent and shy. But he was bold and confident when talking about the gratitude and contentment stemming directly from his biblical beliefs.

“God has blessed me with being able to be here to wake up every day,” he said with an unmistakable look of serenity. “Being able to be a part of this great program. Being able to meet so many great people throughout this world. Just blessing me with the talent to play basketball. Basketball has taken me all over the place, all over the country. I just want to pay my dues back to Him because He’s just put me in a great place with a great family and support system to do some phenomenal things. So I just got to make sure I do my part to play hard and continue to believe in Him.”

When John Calipari tells us over and over that these are good kids, it’s not just coach speak. From what I’ve gleaned, this year’s crew consists of a bunch of really GREAT kids—kids that know their roles, kids that are fully aware of their exalted status as Kentucky Basketball players, and kids who will hopefully bring the Wildcats another national championship.

As Immanuel Quickley is learning in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them.”

I’m not sure whether God is necessarily a University of Kentucky Basketball fan or not. But it sure can’t hurt that Immanuel Quickley–whose Twitter handle just happens to be @IQ_GodSon–obviously has his priorities in the right place. Whether on the basketball court or in the arena of eternal life, you can be certain that @IQ_GodSon is getting everyone ready for the day of reckoning.

I’m ready. Are you?

Dr. John Huang is a regular columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs