A Good Man Down

A Good Man Down

For most of us, involvement in sports is a pleasant distraction. Cheering on our favorite teams and rooting for our heroes cushions the slings and arrows of everyday life. Who doesn’t look forward to Saturdays in the fall—those sacred times of respite from that dead-end job or nagging spouse?

Occasionally, however, the pain and hardship of the real and sporting worlds collide. When athletes suffer debilitating injuries, it suddenly dawns on us how real and vulnerable they are. They battle with many of the same emotions and worries that we deal with. The big difference is that they’ve potentially lost their livelihood, and their battles are frequently fought on the public stage.

It seems like every year, the UK Football team has had to deal with a debilitating preseason injury. This year, it was safety DaVonte Robinson with a quad injury. Last year, it was offensive lineman Landon Young with a torn ACL.

“If you play this sport, it’s going to happen to you at some point or another if you play long enough,” said head coach Mark Stoops. “So it’s very hard because those guys put a lot of work in. They put a lot of work in for a lot of years for only so many opportunities.”

Debilitating injuries are bad enough, but it’s the ravaging illnesses that really get my goat—that make me question my worldview of life as defined by my Christian faith. You look at the cancers that coach John Schlarman and linebacker Josh Paschal are dealing with—and you just can’t help asking “WHY?”

Now we have the situation with UK golfer Cullan Brown. Just two short months ago, Cullan was on top of the world. As a newly minted freshman on the Wildcat Golf team, he made the cut in his first professional tournament at the Barbasol Championship. His engaging personality and infectious grin were contagious. He made everybody around him feel good. His interviews were already becoming legendary. He had game too. I couldn’t wait to cover the exploits of this burgeoning superstar from Eddyville.

All that changed this week when we heard the scary diagnosis. Cullen has osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that can be deadly. It was discovered in his left leg, but apparently was found early enough that his doctors feel it is “fully treatable and beatable.” That’s certainly good news–but with cancer, you just never know.

If anyone can beat this thing, it’ll be Cullan. But he can’t do it alone. He and his family covet your prayers. They also welcome your donations to help with medical expenses at

https://www.gofundme.com/f/birdies-for-brownie?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

What do you say to someone like Cullan or Josh who’s facing such immense challenges entering the prime of their life?

“We support them, that’s for sure,” said Coach Stoops. “We support them and encourage them and go sit with them and talk with them, but there’s not, I don’t think there’s anything, any one thing you could say to somebody to make them feel a lot better.”

Hey Cullan, keep the faith—and know that all of BBN continues to cheer you on.

If you enjoy my writing, check out my columns on a brand new website called Justthecats.com or follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

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There’s Something About Macy

There’s Something About Macy

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Last week, former UK basketball All-American Kyle Macy caused quite a stir. The star point guard for the 1978 NCAA national title squad appeared on an Indiana radio show and proclaimed how he now feels “unwelcome” at Wildcat practices. Macy subsequently stepped his comments back a bit by saying he should have used the word “uncomfortable” rather than “unwelcome.” Regardless—the inference was made that Coach John Calipari’s current regime is somehow putting old-timers like Macy out to pasture in lieu of the recent one and done prodigies of his own creation.

OUCH! Nothing hurts the BBN more than a Cat-on-Cat war of words between hoops icons. To make matters worse, many loyal fans subsequently took sides in the festering battle, with the vocal majority appearing to favor Coach Cal. “Macy had a good run,” they said, “But through the passage of time, people gravitate to the stars of today. That’s just the way the world works nowadays. You’re ancient history. Get over it Kyle!”

The last thing Kyle Macy would want is for a goober like me to make a mountain out of a molehill. But as a lifelong worshipper of the Kentucky Basketball program, I just can’t help myself. Our honor has been insulted.

I don’t agree with the notion that the glory of former star UK players fades with time. In fact, I believe it’s just the opposite. Kyle Macy is a Kentucky basketball legend—and a legitimate legend’s legacy continues to grow rather than shrink as the years go by. I can say that’s true for every one of the all-time greats such as Dan Issel, Jack Givens, Kenny Walker, Jamal Mashburn, etc. Heck, in my humble opinion, even the not-so-all-time greats deserve reverent awe and respect—solely because they wore the hallowed blue and white. I’ll put both Chuck Aleksinas and Chuck Verderber on my big blue pedestal any day of the week. If Chuck Hayes walks through that door right now, I’ll kneel down and wash his feet.

You want more legends? How about Bowie and Turpin, Hurt and Hord, Minniefield and Beal? Has anyone  forgotten The Unforgettables, Pitino’s Bombinos, or that 1996 juggernaut? I doubt it. They’re all fresh in our minds and more reverent with each passing decade. I don’t want to come across sounding like an old man, but fans just seemed more connected to the players and the teams back in the day.

Back in the day in 1969, every ten-year-old boy growing up in Kentucky–myself included—wanted to either be an astronaut or a UK basketball star. We all dreamed of shooting for the moon or shooting jumpers from the corner ala Larry Steele. There was no doubt in our minds that Issel, Pratt, and Casey would surely lead us to another coveted championship. We memorized everyone’s stats, painted their jersey numbers on our T-shirts, and patterned our ball-handling skills after theirs. I even tried to shoot left handed simply because Tom Parker was left handed. How many games did we play on our nerf goals, pounding Ray Mears’ hated Volunteers into an imaginary virtual submission?

As great as that time was, it wasn’t until Kyle Macy appeared on campus that Kentucky would win their first National Championship in my lifetime. Who can ever forget his floor leadership, his free-throw accuracy, his perfect hair, or his dry socks as the Cats defeated Duke for the monumental win. The Goose was definitely golden in St. Louis that night as Macy and crew capped off their “season without celebration,” sending all of BBN and the city of Lexington into a delirious fit of revelry.

Kyle Macy unwelcome? YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t discount the popularity of recent Wildcat stars who have gone on to the NBA. In the pantheon of UK greats, Anthony Davis could arguably have been the most impactful player ever. But if Kyle Macy isn’t welcome or comfortable anymore basking in the glow of the Kentucky Basketball program, then something stinks to high heaven. If one of the greatest stars in the greatest program with “the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball” isn’t welcomed with the sound of blaring trumpets or resounding cymbals anywhere he goes, then our claim of being the greatest fan base in America has been greatly overemphasized.

Yes—there’s something very special about Macy. And you better never forget what it is!     

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

 

 

Cancer Sucks, and I’m a Wuss

Cancer Sucks, and I’m a Wuss

In the annals of American history, December 7th is a date that will live in infamy. It’s also the date that I found out I had prostate cancer. On that fateful Pearl Harbor Day from last year, I discovered something else about myself. I’M A WUSS. I don’t take bad news well.

Everyone has a bit of a hypochondriac in them. You always kind of wonder how you’ll react when receiving the dreaded CANCER diagnosis. Will you stand firm in your faith, calling on years of spiritual steadfastness to fight the good fight? Or will you cower in fear, dread, and self-pity, lamenting the misfortune of being struck down in your prime?

I’m embarrassed to admit—I didn’t handle the situation well. I tried to put on a brave face on the outside, but inwardly I was scared. I sulked. I worried. I’ll confess that my mind went to some dark places. In other words, I wilted like a weak-willed wallflower—like a wimp…a weakling…a wuss.

The reality is that, other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in American men. One man in nine will be diagnosed with it in his lifetime. It’s the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Statistically, about one man in forty-one will die of the disease. It’s a serious illness, but it’s also highly treatable.

My cancer was discovered early with a routine PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test. Even though my levels were still within the normal range, they had gradually risen over the past couple of years. The doctor recommended a biopsy, which led to the eventual surprising diagnosis. Previously, I had no adverse urinary symptoms. I was in great physical shape and had always taken good care of my body. I could still run an eight-minute mile. This couldn’t be happening to me, I thought.

Well, think again. Through my supportive family, praying friends, and Dr. Charles Ray at Commonwealth Urology, I somehow waded through the funk. Rather than undergo radiation or selective seeding, I decided to have my entire prostate removed, knowing full well that those embarrassing incontinence and erectile dysfunction issues could likely follow. Appropriately, I ended up having robotic surgery on Valentine’s Day at Baptist Health Hospital, spent a miserable week with a dangling catheter, and the next six weeks mired in recovery.

Fortunately for me, the incontinence issues have cleared up quickly. I’m peeing like a horse—with no runs or drips. I’ve got a whole bag of unused Depends if anyone needs them. The ED issues are more of a challenge. Let’s just say I’m glad this didn’t happen twenty years earlier. The doctor is confident I’ll regain my edge. I’m a bit more skeptical, although thoroughly amazed that the vacuum penis pump has thus far delivered as promised.

Just when I was nearly back to fighting strength, however, life throws me another haymaker. A nodule on my thyroid was found to be “suspicious” upon biopsy. A new-fangled molecular test indicated probable malignancy. WHAT? Two cancers in six months? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!

You’d think with practice, I would have responded more favorably this time around—with more resilience and fortitude. I’d survived my cancerous prostate. Surely I could do the same with my thyroid.

WRONG! The same doubts and fears and tears of pain came crashing down again—I was a basket case. The wuss in me had returned with a vengeance.

Once again, there was speculation and worry—some pretty dark nights of the soul fearing the worst. Prayer warriors were summoned again, and on July 11th, I went back under the knife at Good Samaritan Hospital under the capable hands of Dr. David Sloan to have the right lobe of my thyroid surgically cut out.

Surgery is never fun, but at least this time, there was no catheter involved—and for the first time in my lifetime, my annual insurance deductible had actually been met. THAT was intensely satisfying, but the ensuing days waiting for the pathology report were interminable. When Dr. Sloan finally gave me the good news the other day—that the tumor was BENIGN—relief washed over me. Actually, it was more like waves of ecstasy. I had bucked the odds. It was the proverbial new lease on life—like the Laettner shot or the Wisconsin loss mercifully wiped from the memory banks forever.

Despite my good fortune, tough challenges still lie ahead. I’ll have to monitor my thyroid levels for the rest of my life—just like I’ll have to continually check my PSA levels for any prostate cancer recurrence. Those relentless cancer cells are always lurking, looking to crash your party when you least expect it. Cancer sucks. Awaiting those test results sucks almost as much.

The real question is this, though. What have I learned from all of this?

Most of all, I’ve learned compassion—compassion for the multitudes of cancer patients and their families. The mental anguish of dealing with these diseases is nearly as devastating as the physical challenges. Those who are suffering covet our encouragement, support, and prayers. You CAN get through this.

The other thing I learned is that life just seems so random. There’s suffering all around us. Good people we care about get sick and die. Disasters happen. On the surface, life just seems so blatantly unfair.

But when I dig deeper, I’ve discovered that life can also be intensely meaningful—designed to be lived to the fullest, and endlessly savored. I’m not sure why it took me this long to discover this basic truth. It seems so simple and straightforward. But if two back-to-back health scares within a six-month period is what it took to get my attention, then I’m eternally grateful that I went through the trials.

Finally—Guys, get your PSA levels checked on an annual basis. Monitor your thyroid periodically. Take care of your bodies. Find good doctors and listen to their advice. Remember that not all fancy schmancy medical tests are a hundred percent accurate. Pray. Love life. Love one another. And above all, keep the faith. Miracles do happen—even to wusses like me.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist. He currently serves as a columnist for Nolan Group Media and Sports View America. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

 

 

A Little Extra Motivation

A Little Extra Motivation

By DR. JOHN HUANG, Nolan Group Media

(LEXINGTON, KY.) – As a die-hard Kentucky fan, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that most of my basketball memories are negative ones. In fact, I daresay that the most indelible ones often involve the year-end heartbreaking defeats. Dating back to the Mideast Regional loss to Jacksonville in 1970, I can tell you exactly where I was every single year that the Wildcats’ season came to an abrupt end. The Laettner shot, Bogans’ sprained ankle, and the Wisconsin shot clock violations all coalescing into a nightmarish potpourri of anger, depression, and grief.

Despite reports to the contrary, it seems that Kentucky fans often do care more about wins and losses than the players themselves. Especially in this decade of one and done, our beloved on-court prodigies quickly move past disappointment. Not long after the final buzzer, they’re basking in the glow of massive NBA contracts and lavish lifestyles while the “average Joe fan” wallows in the pain and agony of yet another tournament loss. If only the players would stick around long enough to experience the heartache, to feel our pain—then surely they’d be extra motivated the next time around.

During the most recent media opportunity, I asked each of the four returning UK players about just that topic. To a man, they said the Auburn loss at the end of the season still grates at their collective core. It serves as a constant reminder and motivational force to propel them to greater heights. Whether that means another Final Four or a Championship trophy remains to be seen. But for a guy bent on spending the first weekend in April at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Atlanta this upcoming Spring, their words were sweet melodies to my expectant ears and a much-needed salve for my wounded soul.

Sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley figures to garner significant minutes in the backcourt this year. He certainly hasn’t forgotten about that fateful day in Kansas City. “I probably think about it almost every day,” he confessed. “Just knowing that we were that close to getting to a Final Four. You watch it on TV, but to play in the Final Four would have been really cool. It kind of hurts that we didn’t get to do that.”

Backcourt mate Ashton Hagans agreed wholeheartedly. The Wildcats’ sophomore starting point guard appeared cool, confident, and composed—until he was asked about that season-ending defeat. “It’s actually been in the back of my head a lot,” he lamented. “It’s just one of those feelings that will never go away because you were so close. The bond that we created (last year), it was just different. Knowing that we can’t do it with the same group…it hurt. But that just adds fuel to the fire. So you just have to come in, knowing what you could have done last year—just bring it in and just leave it on the court this year.”

Sophomore forward EJ Montgomery was the last of the teammates to pull his name out of the upcoming NBA draft. Temporarily passing on the opportunity to fulfill his dream, he vividly remembers the tearful locker room after the overtime loss to Auburn, and he claims that it’s a definite factor in upping his game this year. “No one wants to go through that, (the disappointment) of times with your team,” he said. “You gotta put in work in the gym. We have some returnees that all felt that, so we’re just going to try our best to get farther.”

OK, who are we kidding? I’m not saying any of these guys returned to school solely to win another national title. Those team-oriented goals and dreams left town with the likes of Kenny Walker and Roger Harden. Granted, times were different back when they played—a bygone era when love for your school trumped even one’s individual career goals. In this day and age of players focused solely on taking their games to the next level, is it even possible that they’d be motivated by defeat?  

Perhaps junior center Nick Richards said it best. After all, he’s suffered through two crushing season-ending upsets—to Kansas State as a freshman and to Auburn as a sophomore. “Those two losses are actually just motivation for me and my game,” he readily admitted. “Just trying to motivate this team. Just to make it to that championship, just to hold up that trophy, just to be on that stage is real motivation for me. I always think about those losses every single day.”

Me too, Nick. With the exception of four years in my lifetime, every Wildcat season has ended in abject disaster. It’s virtually impossible for fans like me to forgive and forget. We’re all hoping that Championship #9 is just around the corner—and that for the returning UK players, a little extra motivation is all that’s needed to get them over the hump.

“That’s the goal for every team—to make it to the Final Four and just win the National Championship,” Nick added.

For all of BBN, we couldn’t agree more.

Dr. John Huang covers University of Kentucky sports for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.  

Derby Sober

Derby Sober

(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) – Truth be told, the Kentucky Derby really isn’t about the horse race. What really captures one’s imagination is the spectacle of the entire Derby Day experience. Oh sure, history will note that Country House won the 145th annual “Run for the Roses” after Maximum Security was disqualified for interference. But the real memories of the first Saturday in May always fall back to the pageantry, the traditions, and the pomp and ceremony taking place in and around the race itself.

“It’s a great moment,” said winning jockey Flavien Prat. “It’s a dream come true…it’s amazing. I mean, there’s no race like the Kentucky Derby. And I was hoping to ride it, ride the Derby, and to win it.”

Few venues in the sporting world dare to rival the iconic twin spires of Churchill Downs. The ivy at Wrigley Field, Notre Dame’s Touchdown Jesus, or the Green Monster at Fenway you say? Those are decent choices, but they usually conjure up images of specific teams or season-long events. You show anyone a picture of those quintessential Churchill steeples, however, and all thoughts zoom directly to the Kentucky Derby. For one specific day out of the year, the entire sporting world focuses on our little corner of the Bluegrass State—our ultimate claim to fame. For you see, it’s not the regal, four-legged, three-year-old thoroughbreds that make for the most exciting two minutes in sports—but rather the bourbon, the burgoo, and the big hats that end up capturing our fanciful imaginations.

I grew up in the Commonwealth, but this is only my second official Kentucky Derby—my first as a credentialed media member. Like your first dog, your first car, or your first wife, it’ll forever be hard to top the sentimentality of that initial experience.

https://huangswhinings.com/2016/04/21/kentucky-fried-derby

But being part of the press corps this time around definitely has its advantages. As a scribe for Sports View America, I’m getting in for free.

According to StubHub, the Derby’s not cheap. A general admission ticket for a spot in the infield usually runs you eighty bucks—an option I wouldn’t recommend, unless you’re someone under thirty with a bon-a-fide death wish. Want to upgrade? A decent seat in the grandstand will likely set you back three to four hundred dollars. If you really want to waste your money, try Millionaires Row—where for a cool six grand, you’ll likely rub elbows with celebrities like Tom Brady, Jennifer Lawrence, or one of the Kardashians.

Speaking of celebrities, the Derby’s really just a glorified fashion show. Both sexes dressed to the nines—or tens for that matter. Seersucker suits, oversized fascinators, and hideous hats grace the walkways. It’s at events like the Derby when you suddenly realize that one man’s fashion is another man’s clown suit. Regardless of perspective, you can dress like a bum if you’re a member of the media. No need to spring for outlandish suspenders or Gucci shoes. Faded jeans, a flannel shirt, and that prized credentialed lanyard hanging around your neck will get you up close and personal to the horseflesh at hand.

Parking, food, and accessible toilets are additional media perks for me this year. Unlike before, I’m not paying thirty bucks for a two-mile hike to the track with porta potty privileges along the way. Instead, I’ve got a reserved spot in the media lot, just a short jaunt to the hallowed front gates. Once inside, I’m treated to quite the spread at the Derby day media buffet. Meats, salads, and desserts all laid out for you to grab and go. No alcohol, though. If you want a sip of that $15 mint julep, you’re on your own. Which begs the question: Can you really enjoy the Kentucky Derby if you’re completely sober? I’m about to find out.

Everyone at this Derby appears just a tad bit tipsy. It’s one big party—and who doesn’t enjoy being the life of the party? Even so, there are two lines of inebriation you simply can’t cross. Don’t get sick, and don’t get naked. Abstaining from liquid courage, I wisely avoided both—leaving the cookie tossing and wardrobe malfunctions to those far less inhibited.

You’d think bad weather would have discouraged some of the crowds today. That wasn’t the case as 150,729 filed in despite the chilly and messy rain. It made for some long and soggy lines at the betting windows—and even longer ones for the food kiosks and bathrooms. Often times, just walking around became a challenge. The pungency of the spilled liquor, grilled meats, body odor, damp air, and ubiquitous cigar smoke became noticeably more unpleasant as the day wore on. Looking around, trash piled up everywhere. The only thing messier was the postrace traffic—horrifically long shuttle waits, Uber lines, and jumbled backups tripling the usual time needed to get home.

Can you enjoy the Derby while sober? If you don’t like crowds, gambling, long lines, drunk people, sick people, loud people, bad traffic, bad weather, bad smells, bad internet, and bad steward rulings, then the answer is a resounding “NO!” But not all events in life are meant to be pleasant. It’s the unique experiences that we so often covet, and many aspects of the Kentucky Derby remain distinguishingly unique. The pre-Derby singing of My Old Kentucky Home is still one of the most sentimental and memorable experiences in all of sports.

When I asked winning trainer Bill Mott what the most memorable aspect of his Kentucky Derby experience was, here’s what he told me. “You know what I enjoy the most is just training the horses. I mean, that’s what I live for—get up in the morning, come out and see the horses…I woke up this morning and said “Oh (bleep), this is here. It’s finally here…When you finally reach a point when the training goes well, it’s actually very memorable. That part of it means the most to me.”

“…walking into that circle at Churchill Downs, it’s a pretty special event,” Mott continued. “Why do it the easy way, you know what I mean?”

Having just covered my first Kentucky Derby and seeing history being made, I know exactly what he means.

Dr. John Huang is lead writer for Sports View America. This column was featured in the Apr/May print edition of Sports View America Publications. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Let Freedom Ring

Let Freedom Ring

This blog posting really isn’t about basketball at all—which is exactly my reason for writing it.

Final Four? I don’t care. I guess I’m a sore loser. The minute Kentucky gets eliminated in the NCAA tournament, I just want to get as far away from basketball as possible. Two years ago, after UNC’s Luke Maye sent the Wildcats prematurely packing, I immediately started packing for my own trip to Turks and Caicos. When Kansas State upset the Big Blue last year, I booked the first flight out for the Florida gulf coast. This year, unfortunately, I’m headed out early again—to someplace far away from Minneapolis, where I can put overtime losses to Bruce Pearl completely out of sight and out of mind.

You see, less than twenty-four hours after returning from the disappointment in Kansas City, I was stuffing my suitcase for Washington, DC. I’ve been there many times over the course of my lifetime, but never while the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. I’m killing two birds with one stone on this trip—making my wife happy and NOT watching basketball during the first weekend in April.

Ah, the memories come flooding back. My first visit to our nation’s capital was with my mom and dad back in the mid-1960s. As newly minted, starry-eyed, first generation immigrants from China, my parents wanted to show first hand—to their number one son—the sights and symbols representing their personal pursuit of the American Dream. Where better than Washington, DC, where founding fathers and freedom fighters named Washington, Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln stood sentinel over democracy? Granted, I was only six years old at the time, but something deep down inside of me still resonated with this Land of Opportunity. Even back then, the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness sounded pretty darned good to me.

I returned to DC again in the early 1980s, this time as a recent college graduate, indoctrinated with the liberal agenda and misguided cynicism flowing out of all university campuses. The city had a different vibe for me this time around. Thoughts of American imperialism, social injustice, and racial inequality sadly replaced the wide-eyed innocence of my earlier visit. With malice towards none; charity for all suddenly became a slogan that pipedreams were made of. Not going to happen in this America, I surmised at the time.

I returned to Washington again in the early 1990s, a thirty-something professional with a beautiful wife and one-year-old daughter in tow. Ten years in the military with a stint living overseas, and my thoughts on America had changed. The good ole’ USA was now all about capitalism—making a buck, keeping up with the Joneses, and paying off your mortgage. To me, DC represented all that was worth striving for—the money of the Federal Reserve, the power on Capitol Hill, and the status of the West Wing. I have a dream. It was a different dream than Dr. Martin Luther King had, but it was my dream, nonetheless.

And now, nearly three decades later, I’m back again—armed with a lifetime of experiences and a bucketload of supposedly new wisdom. It’s somewhat bittersweet. My mom has since passed, my daughter is all grown up, and I’ve been retired and put out to pasture. On a beautiful sunny weekday morning, I stroll leisurely along the National Mall, with plenty of time to ruminate about life’s regrets, growing old, and what America has meant to me.

Over a half a century as a naturalized American citizen gives me a perspective grounded mostly in gratitude. I’m grateful for many things—a fine education, access to health care, and languorous walks with my dog. But as I pause in front of all the different war memorials, I realize that the thing I’m mostly grateful for in America is freedom. Freedom to speak, write, gather, and worship as I choose. The United States of America still has its faults, but in terms of individual freedom, it remains the greatest nation on the face of the earth.

Walking up the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, I’m reminded that with freedom comes responsibility. Freedom isn’t free. Many have died fighting for it. May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” (author unknown)

Our Founding Fathers got it right in the beginning. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” May Washington, DC remain forever a bastion of liberty and a beacon for democracy. Let freedom ring!

By the way, the cherry blossoms were beautiful in April. My wife is happy. Final Four? Who does Duke play again?

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist living out the American Dream covering University of Kentucky Sports. He is a columnist for Nolan Group Media and lead writer for Sports View America. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @KYHuangs.

 

The End of the Line

The End of the Line

(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) – Never mind that the Kentucky Wildcats led the nation in NCAA Tournament appearances. Forget that Kansas City had hosted the most NCAA games in tournament history. The fact the Wildcats had never played a postseason contest in the Heart of America should have signaled a warning that something was terribly amiss. Sure enough, after a 62-58 heart-stopping victory over Houston in the Sweet Sixteen, Kentucky (30-7) fell victim to a familiar SEC foe in the Elite Eight. The Auburn Tigers, behind 26 points from Jared Harper and 24 points from Bryce Brown, upset the Wildcats 77-71 in overtime, effectively ending BBN’s hopes and dreams of another Final Four run.

As the final horn sounded, the tattered remains of another promising season lay strewn across the hardwood of the downtown Sprint Center. Not sure if it was the barbeque burnt ends, the inexperienced guard play, or the free-throw shooting bugaboo, but the blue mist left the Show Me State with a bad feeling in the pit of their stomachs—pondering what went wrong as, yet again, another season of one and done prodigies prepares for future NBA riches.

For Wildcat fans everywhere, the finality of season’s end always feels like a cataclysmic collision of catastrophic proportions. From the Bahamas hype, to Ashton’s emergence, to the Rocky Top massacre at Rupp, we’ve all been treated to a tantalizing season of thrills and chills—heightened by the prospect of a nerve-wracking, blood pressure-spiking postseason run. The perfect storybook ending this year should’ve involved a potential redemption game with Duke, culminating in that elusive Championship Number Nine.

Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. Instead we have this. Tears flowing freely in the locker room afterwards, once again, as college careers are cut short—ironically not because the players weren’t good enough to survive and advance, but because they were too good to stay another year and make another legitimate run at the championship.

Ten years ago, John Calipari arrived on campus with a brand-new philosophy. “One and Done” they called it. Recruit the very best elite high school players to Kentucky and punch everybody else in the mouth. At first it worked great—Final Fours and National Titles became the standard. But after a decade, other teams have caught on. Duke has passed them by.

To win championships with new players every year is difficult—especially with what some claim is sub elite talent. I’ll take my chances with a Zion Williamson, John Wall, or Anthony Davis, but it’s a different story with a Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro. Coach Cal acknowledges it as such. “When you’re changing teams like this, it keeps you curious,” he said. “We’re doing things with this team that we’ve never done with any other team because we had to.”

So, the question that BBN needs answered is this: Is this good enough? Are Kentucky fans willing to settle for being “in the hunt” every year, even if it means consistently missing out on Final Fours and Championships? Does the joy of the journey outweigh the disappointment at the end of the rainbow? Does the means justify the end?

I’m not sure. After all, we’re Kentucky—proud owner of the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball. We take a back seat to no one—not Duke, not North Carolina, not Gonzaga, not Virginia. The most passionate fan base in America, they call us. We’re the Big Blue Nation and Kentucky Basketball never stops!

Hmmm? With that being said, I think this IS good enough. Kentucky Basketball is every bit as much about the fans as it is about championships. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll all gladly acknowledge that winning championships is often quite random. I’d rather be lucky than good.

“I don’t look at this as life or death,” said Coach Cal, when I asked him how he handles the pressure of having the collective hopes of the entire Big Blue Nation resting on his shoulders every single year. “Because if you look at this as life or death, you die a lot.”

If you’re someone who dies every year when the season ends, those are indeed wise words.

But someone even wiser than Coach Cal also once said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” For many of us, Kentucky Basketball is a treasure—often a life saving distraction in the midst of a life full of pain and grief and suffering. When it’s GAMEDAY, we all end up with a smile on our face and a skip in our step. Sure, it’s far better whenever Kentucky wins. But it’s not really the end of the line when they lose. It’s just a temporary respite until next year’s journey. Big Blue Madness can’t come soon enough!

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