But the greatest of these is FOOD

But the greatest of these is FOOD

And now these three remain: sex, sleep, and food. But the greatest of these is FOOD!

I’ve always loved food. Not only does eating food satisfy one of man’s basic biological needs, it can also give rise to one of his greatest earthly pleasures. That’s certainly true for me. Whether traveling the world sampling international cuisine or vegetating on my couch watching NetFlix, gluttony sadly sits atop my seven deadly sins list.

When it comes to food, I don’t discriminate. I’m as comfortable chowing down at any hole-in-the-wall burger joint as I am at a three-star Michelin fine dining restaurant. Fast food, comfort food, ethnic food, or junk food, it doesn’t matter a lick to me. I can handle vegan, vegetarian, sweet, or savory. If the food is good, bring it on. I’m like a Chinese Andrew Zimmern swooping in on his next delicious destination.

That’s why I’m heading down to the Asian Food Fest in downtown Cincinnati this weekend. This vibrant community festival celebrates culture and cuisine from the entire Pacific Rim and beyond. For me, it’s like a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I grew up eating all sorts of Chinese delicacies, so I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of my fondest gastronomical delights.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t drive up here solely to attend the food festival. I’m here on assignment covering the Cincinnati Reds. It’s the doubleheader from hell as the Reds are taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates in a drawn-out twin bill. Twelve consecutive hours in purgatory is a bit too much for anyone to sit through, so I’m taking a break between games to gorge myself silly.

As I approach the plaza on foot, I get my first whiff of paradise—the scintillating smells of simmering spices serenades my nostrils. This is what heaven must be like. But instead of streets paved with gold, the streets are lined with food vendors serving the tasting menu of my dreams. There’s no fake chop suey like you find at your local Kroger deli. Nope—you’re talking Malaysian Chicken Rendang, Kalua Pork Nachos, Vietnamese Empanadas, and the most delectable tofu Pad Thai this side of Bangkok. Where do I even begin?

There’s a definite strategy involved in approaching these food festivals. You can’t waste calories by making bonehead choices. The days of eating as much as I want without expanding my waistline are long gone. There’s no more tapeworm or hollow leg to fall back on. In other words, I’ve got to pace myself, be selective, and loosen my belt accordingly.

My strategy, then, is to start slow and to look for the longest lines. I queue up behind several Asian couples at this one place claiming to serve authentic Chinese fare. One bite into the barbecue pork steam bun stuffed with quail egg and Chinese sausage tells me I made the right choice. The sweet fluffy dough evokes a flood of memories from my youth. I can’t help but think of my dear Mama, rising up early to painstakingly hand knead the flour, roll out the dough, and lovingly craft those magically delicious baos.

A revelation suddenly occurs to me. Not only does everything taste good, but each item I choose has an indelible memory attached to it. The spicy coconut-based broth of the Curry Laksa reminds me of the first of many meals my beloved bride cooked for me. The authentic Nepalese Momo Dumplings spur recollections of food binges with my brother. When I marvel at the delicate scallion pancake holding together my Chinese Pork Taco, I’m reminded of the importance of solid life-long relationships. Never mind the Caucasian dude beside me choking on the spices, I’m in my happy place.

The food we eat is more than just sustenance. It’s our life as well as our lifeblood. It’s all the sights and smells and textures and tastes joining together to form a symphony of life experiences. You vividly remember exactly where you were when you bit into that first soup dumpling or tasted the crispiness of Peking Duck for the very first time.

Food speaks to you—just like a soothing musical ballad—in ways that words cannot. It takes you back to all those special times, to all those memorable places, and reconnects you with every person you’ve ever broken bread with over the course of your precious lifetimes.

Try saying that about sex, or sleep, or shelter, or any of our other basic human needs for that matter. You can’t. That’s why the greatest of these is food.

I’ll have the Mung Bean Noodles to go, please.

Books and Pizza

Books and Pizza

Two of my favorite life activities are writing books and eating pizza. Whenever I combine the two passions, it makes for one glorious day. Occasionally, my joy overflows and I feel compelled to share. Sunday was one of those times.

It’s Palm Sunday, and I’m headed out riding—not on my ass—but in my trusty white convertible. The temperature’s not quite warm enough to cruise with the top down, but the sun is shining, and the central Kentucky countryside is resplendent in all its verdant glory.

Beside me is Kyle Macy. Yeah, THE KYLE MACY, arguably the most popular Kentucky basketball player to have ever worn the uniform. Kyle and I did a book together titled From the Rafters of Rupp, and we’re headed up the backroads of horse country to Cynthiana, Kentucky, to do a book signing.

You never know how these appearances will pan out, so I’m wound tighter than a banjo string. Kyle, however, is just Kyle—cool, calm, and as collected as ever. We arrive about twenty minutes early at our pre-arranged venue. Kyle is confident we’ll sign a million books. I’m just hoping we won’t be the only ones there.

As usual, my worries are unfounded as a nice crowd materializes. Kyle dazzles them with his wonderful gift of gab. It amazes me how surprisingly candid he is when talking about UK Basketball. It’s obvious he loves the program—but as you’ll see in the book—he’s not afraid to speak his mind either. I, on the other hand, have been guzzling the blue Kool-Aid. I know the people aren’t here to listen to me anyway, so I stick to the party line whenever I’m asked a pointed question. Kyle rolls his eyes and tells me I’ve still got a lot to learn.

The Next Chapter Bookstore (thenextchapter41031.com) is a real gem. It’s relatively new, having opened in November of 2020…and having expanded to their fabulous new location in October of last year. The three owners—Jennifer Renaker, Ashley Peak, and Sherry Judy—greet us like long-lost cousins. You can feel the love they’ve poured into this business enterprise, as they bounce around energetically making everyone feel welcome. I see my other UK basketball book, Kentucky Passion, prominently displayed on the front shelf. Yep, this place is awesome. THIS PLACE IS AWESOME, INDEED! I’ll be back for sure.

After the books are signed and everyone’s happy, Kyle and I prepare for part two of our Sunday afternoon doubleheader. We’ve been invited for some homemade pizza at the house of the King. Doug Hampton is a former basketball referee and world-famous auctioneer. He’s also a New York Pizza School graduate and is well-known for his mouth-watering pies.

Before we indulge, however, we stop off on a parcel of holy ground. This is Joe B. Hall country, and no visit to Cynthiana would be complete without a visit to his mural. It’s much bigger and grander than I had imagined. Prior to his recent passing, many considered Joe the most beloved coach in America https://huangswhinings.com/2020/02/20/the-most-beloved-coach-in-america/. Kyle played for Coach Hall on that 1978 national championship team, and he assures me that Joe B. was as classy as they come.

The Dugan’s Pizza experience was downright heavenly. To be perfectly honest, it may just be the best pizza I’ve ever had. The dough was exquisite—tantalizingly chewy on the outside with a delectably airy and fluffy middle. The sauce was orgasmic, a puree of ripened tomatoes enhanced with the perfect blend of basil and garlic. And man…that cheese…the thought of that caramelized specialty brick cheese oozing together with the stringy mozzarella and sprinkled liberally atop with parmesan has me quivering as I write. Top everything off with a thick juicy slab of bacon or some flavorful pepperoni, and let’s fight to the death for that last corner square.

Predictably, Kyle and I gorge ourselves. He has four slices. I’m five-and-done. We both then cruise back towards Lexington disgustingly fat and happy. But WAIT…Kyle has a sweet tooth. He’s not done yet. We go for broke, pull up to the nearest Dairy Queen, and order our Blizzards. Just our luck—their ice cream mixer is broken.

I’m a bit ticked off, but Kyle shrugs it off. The guy is literally one cool cat. I figured with all the accolades and adoration he’s received over the years, these types of outings would get old in a hurry. I ask him if he enjoyed the day.

“Absolutely,” he answers me. “It’s always fun meeting people and talking about UK Basketball.”

I’m no Kyle Macy, but I’ll second the motion. Life is all about relationships—nurturing existing ones and formulating brand new ones. That’s easy to do with the folks in Cynthiana. They’re some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Plus, they bought all our books and fed us the best pizza south of Brooklyn. You can see why I’m feeling truly blessed. I’m living the dream.

Kyle and I will be at it again next week. Bullitt County, here we come. Crank up those Oreo Blizzards.

Books and ice cream, anyone?

Head on over to The Next Chapter Bookstore and pick up your signed copy of #FromTheRaftersOfRupp or #KentuckyPassion. Can’t make it out? Order here https://www.acclaimpress.com/books/from-the-rafters-of-rupp-the-book/

or https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

and we’ll find a way to sign it for you next time you’re in town. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Super Bowl Dreams

Super Bowl Dreams

The Cincinnati Bengals are Super Bowl bound—and Lord willing, SO AM I!

As someone who has faithfully covered the team for the past five years, the National Football League has graciously granted me an official media credential for the press box at SoFi Stadium. For a football junkie like me, that means a journey to the pinnacle of the NFL, a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the mountaintop summit of the entire sporting world.

Ever since Jim O’Brien kicked the Baltimore Colts to a 16 – 13 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V, I’ve dreamed of going to this iconic event. Year after year, for over half a century, I’ve longed to experience the world-renowned glamour and pageantry with my own eyes and ears.

The undefeated Dolphins, Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, the ’85 Bears, America’s Team with Aikman and Smith, the Greatest Show on Turf, Brady and Belichick—all viewed through the lens of that distant and detached boob tube screen.

Regardless of who was playing or where I was, I’d always make it a point to somehow tune in. Whether at a large social gathering or alone in my man cave, I simply couldn’t miss. Those 1:00 am kickoffs while stationed in Germany were especially difficult. One year while traveling, I remember frantically searching for a television at a seaside bar off the coast of Thailand (early on a Monday morning) just to get my Super Bowl fix.

Each year, after the final credits rolled, I promised myself that next year would be the one that I would finally make the in-person plunge. And yet, the plunge never came. Like so many other well-intentioned plans, this one careened into the backburner of misplaced priorities and dashed hopes. As the Super Bowl itself ballooned in stature and as ticket prices subsequently soared, my dream coincidentally vaporized.

And just as suddenly—as improbable as it sounds after all these years—I’m riding triumphantly to Super Bowl LVI on the backs of the Bengals. It’s a serendipitous ride of sorts, the Super Bowl venue at SoFi Stadium beckoning to me like a fairytale fantasy of my pre-adolescent youth.

You see, the Bengals are playing the Los Angeles Rams in LA. I’ve always loved the City of Angels. When I was young, my dream was to move to Los Angeles and become a movie star. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the talent, the looks, or the teeth to be a Leonardo DiCaprio—so I became a dentist instead. I guess things worked out okay, but I always wondered how different my life would have been as an Asian Brad Pitt.

Having missed out on Hollywood, I did the next best thing. I became a fan of everything LA—including the Los Angeles Rams. Yep, those Rams—the early Rams—the Rams who played in the glorious LA Coliseum. Posters of the Fearsome Foursome, Roman Gabriel, and Jack Youngblood adorned my bedroom walls. Vince Ferragamo, “Hacksaw” Reynolds, and Eric Dickerson populated my card collection. My daily moods and outlook on life sadly fluctuated with the fortunes of Pat Haden and Jim Everett.

When the team moved east, however, the Rams lost a bit of their luster for me. Budweiser Clydesdales and Gateway Arches couldn’t hold a candle to the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood Bowl, Rodeo Drive, and Venice Beach. I discovered that my love for the team was as fleeting as my hopes for movie stardom.

Therefore, there’ll be no divided loyalties this coming Sunday. I’ll be cheering wildly for the Cinderella Bengals. What a heartwarming story it will be when the midwestern team of my midlife sports-writing career takes on the west coast team of my youthful Hollywood dreams. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

Here’s what else has worked out. My daughter, Katie, lives in LA. Unlike her dear old dad, she followed her heart and took the west coast plunge early on. Now I get an unexpected visit with her while working the game of my dreams–in the city of my dreams. It simply doesn’t get any better than that. I feel so blessed.

Super Bowl LVI, here I come. Please don’t wake me up.

Dr. John Huang covers professional sports for Sports View America. His latest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, is available in bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

The Prince Turns Six

The Prince Turns Six

For my sixth birthday, my parents gave me a new pair of tennis shoes. These were nothing like the latest Air Jordans you can buy online nowadays for over $300 a pop. But rather, these were your friendly K-Mart specials retailing for the fabulously low price of $4.95.

You see, Mama and Baba just weren’t much into frivolous gift-giving when it came to birthday presents for their children. Don’t get me wrong, they’d sacrifice the world to pay for practical things like our college educations or a down payment on our house. But if I asked for something like a fanciful trip to the beach, they’d probably just laugh in my face. I knew better than to even ask.

So, when my brother and his wife said they were taking their son, Gabriel, out to Disneyland in California to celebrate his sixth birthday, I couldn’t help but cringe. I asked Michael and Michelle if I could come along. I realized that I’d become more and more like my mom and dad—a royal Scrooge when it came to acknowledging milestones in life and significant rites of passage. That shackled me more than I cared to admit, and this trip with Gabriel was going to be my ticket to freedom.

For those who don’t know him, let me tell you a bit about my nephew. The kid’s predictably precocious and smart as a whip. He’s the sole male descendant on this side of our family tree. I was there when he was born and appropriately appointed him at the time as the “emissary of the Huang family jewels.”

I was part joking and part serious. Gabriel doesn’t quite grasp it yet, but our expectations for him are through the roof. As someone who’s getting ready to be put out to pasture, I’m already rolling all my unfulfilled hopes and discarded dreams into the opportunities still lying ahead of him. That’s a heavy burden for anybody to bear—and it’s certainly not fair to Gabriel. In his six short years on earth, he’s already brought our family enough smiles, hugs, and joy to last two or three lifetimes.

When you see the word “spoiled” in the dictionary, however, you’ll see Gabriel’s picture as part of the definition. His mom calls him “The Prince,” if that tells you anything. Whenever there’s a new toy that’s the latest and greatest craze, there’ll be two of them in Gabriel’s playroom by Tuesday. There were times that he had so many toy cars strewn across the family room floor that I was sure my ninety-year-old father would undoubtedly slip and fall to his death. Whether stuffed animals, air rifles, or model rockets to the moon, nothing was too expensive, too outlandish, or too good for The Prince.

Not even a Disneyland trip—a blow-out-the-budget foray that would have his grandparents rolling over in their graves. This journey of extravagance was my best chance of vicariously experiencing everything that I had missed out on in my youth of parental-denial. For once, I’d finally see how the other half lives—squandering my life savings with nary a thought for tomorrow.

As if Disney itself wasn’t enough, we’re scheduled for a Pre-Disney day at the neighboring Knott’s Berry Farm in Anaheim. Bubbling with anticipation, The Prince is up early with his royal entourage trailing in his wake—Mom and Dad, Uncle John, Cousin Katie, Aunt Mary and Uncle Robin—all ready to indulge and coddle.

Here’s my beef with Knotts Berry Farm. For a place that started out as a roadside berry stand, it has way too many thrill coasters for a six-year-old prodigy. Gabriel won’t ride many of them, and neither will I. The Prince pines instead for the rigged arcade games, and he predictably melts down when his daddy can’t bring home the hardware. Fifty bucks for park admission and the kid’s whining about missing out on a fifty-cent CLAW toy. Jesus, help us!

The next day, it’s more of the same at Disneyland—only it’s Gabriel’s daddy who’s doing most of the sulking. Missing out on the 7 a.m. virtual queue for the Rise of the Resistance ride sends Michael—a Star Wars fanatic—into the throws of depression. He walks around the park with an unrelenting frowny face as he misses out on the noontime virtual queue also. It seems our best laid plans have been unceremoniously hijacked.

The Prince, however, seems totally unfazed. He’s happy as a Jedi cruising Galaxy’s Edge. And why wouldn’t he be? His dad just dropped $150 watching him build a droid. He’s munching on $10 corn dogs and sporting a new $24 hat. An overpriced character meal with Goofy at the Disneyland Hotel is also lurking in the wings.

But you know what? As his late Grandpa would often say, “Gabriel is a good boy.” Despite the apparent over-indulgence, I find myself marveling at the kid, nonetheless. He waits patiently in interminable lines for rides, walks over ten miles crisscrossing the park without a single complaint, and keeps us all entertained with his never-ending commentary and wit. Most importantly, he makes everyone around him happy. And it is his birthday after all.

Even the Disney gods relent. Miraculously, we get a last-minute call-up for the Rise of the Resistance, and we hightail it over to board with our group. As I look over at Gabriel wondrously eyeing the Death Star, I can’t help but see my child-like self in him. Fifty years ago, I walked these exact same streets of Disney. I remember those magical moments with my family like they happened yesterday. I treasure those memories more than life itself. I’m hoping that Gabriel will treasure his time with me in the very same way.

His mom was right. There’s nothing too good for The Prince. I love you, Gabriel. May the force be with you.

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. His two newest books, KENTUCKY PASSION and FROM THE RAFTERS OF RUPP, are now available online and wherever fine books are sold. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Kentucky Passion

Kentucky Passion

Writing books is somewhat akin to winning national championships. After tasting it once, you develop an insatiable craving to do it all over again. The second time around gives you even more joy. As a bona fide author, people no longer regard you as a flash in the pan.

With the release of my newest book, Kentucky Passion, I’ve not only joined the multiple book club, but I think I’ve created something exceptionally special. Kentucky Passion isn’t just your ordinary run-of-the-mill compilation of game scores and player quotes chronicling the program over the years. Rather, it’s a labor of love to all my fellow UK fans; a book for the fans written by a fan—a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying member of BBN for the past fifty years.

I know that basketball books are a dime a dozen. Here are three specific reasons why I think this one stands out.

It’s a Kentucky Basketball book

The program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball is chocked full of memorable moments. The Mardi Gras Miracle, the night the Goose was golden, the Laettner shot, Rick Pitino bolting for Boston, Tayshaun Prince and his five three-pointers—those are all iconic events indelibly etched in the minds of every Kentucky fan. Whether you were there or not when they happened, over the years they’ve all become important milestones marking Kentucky Basketball lore. I was lucky enough to have lived through all of them. My goal is to now take you courtside with me to experience the monumental joys (and occasional heartbreaks) all over again. You won’t just read about them—you’ll live them.

It’s not just a Kentucky Basketball book

John Calipari tells us all the time that Wildcat fans are crazy. I prefer the word passionate. My coauthor, Del Duduit, and I wanted to channel that passion into something that all the Kentucky faithful could use in their everyday lives. Del is a renowned Christian writer, famous for his sports devotional books, who has interviewed famous athletes from all around the world about their spiritual beliefs and faith journeys. In Kentucky Passion, Del takes my basketball narratives and transforms them into practical guides for negotiating the everyday challenges of life. What life lessons can we learn from the University of Jodie Meeks, or the Dream Game turned nightmare, or the Rise of the Jorts? I guarantee you won’t find wisdom like this outside the book of Proverbs.

The book has pictures…and a foreword by the most popular UK player ever

Most of you know my brother, Dr. Michael Huang, the photographer for Kentucky Sports Radio. What you may not know is that he’s just as big a Kentucky Basketball fan as I am. We’ve always wanted to do a joint project on the Cats. A picture is worth a thousand words. Kentucky Passion contains two full-color sections spotlighting fifty of Michael’s notable prints. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Kyle Macy is arguably the most popular player to have ever worn the Kentucky uniform. Back during the days of the ’78 championship, I worshipped the ground he walked on. If you told me then—that forty years later—he’d be penning the foreword for my book, I’d have told you that you were certifiably nuts. I guess that’s the kind of turn of events that dreams are made of. I’m living that dream with Kentucky Passion—and I’d be honored to have you be a part of it.

Here’s the link to get your copy.

Here’s a bonus reason—probably the best reason—to purchase this book. Kentucky Passion was published by—of all people—Red Lightning Books, a subsidiary of Indiana University Press. If those hoops-crazy Hoosiers would bend over backwards to publish and publicize something about their hated border rival, you know the book must be pretty Pulitzer worthy. They released their own book spotlighting IU earlier this year. C’mon BBN—let’s show ‘em who’s king.

Thanks again for being so passionate…and being an integral part of Kentucky Passion.

Rupp Arena Upgrades Will Blow Your Mind (and blow up your wallets)

Rupp Arena Upgrades Will Blow Your Mind (and blow up your wallets)

The President’s Lounge area at the newly renovated Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. Here’s where UK President Eli Capilouto will be hosting all the deep-pocketed donors and bigwigs prior to tipoff.

It’s about time.

In their effort to keep up with the Joneses, the powers that be in charge of the Central Bank Center expansion have finally put their money where their mouth is. A $241 million construction upgrade—which began in the Summer of 2018—is well underway and is targeted for completion in Spring of 2022.

They tell us that when finished, the newly-refurbished convention center will house over 200,000 square feet of exhibition, ballroom, and meeting space (nearly a 40 – 50% increase from before).

As far as our beloved basketball home is concerned, we’ve already seen the brand spanking new chairbacks added to the upper levels of Rupp Arena as part of the radical redesign. What they’ve yet to reveal to the public eye, however, are the state-of-the-art luxury lounges, the expanded concourses, and the environmentally friendly and energy-efficient features of an iconic (but dated) building looking to blast off into the 21st century stratosphere.

I got a chance to take a sneak peek behind the scenes today to see what all the fuss is about. Sure, I was impressed by all the planned highfalutin amenities, but I’ve got some mixed feelings about all the changes about to be unveiled.

You see, I’m a bit of a traditionalist at heart. I remember Rupp Arena back when it first opened in 1976. I recall Rick Robey hitting the first basket while Adolph Rupp looked on from his mid-court recliner. Through the years, my mind goes back to all the many memorable games and championship runs. Minniefield to Bowie’s halfcourt alley-oop dunk; Tayshaun and those five three-pointers versus North Carolina; John Wall in his debut against Miami (OH). I don’t want any of those memories to fade.

A part of me wants to remember Rupp Arena just as it was: Big Bertha, rafter banners, regular fans packed in like sardines in the upper decks—in their seats an hour before tipoff just soaking in the rarified atmosphere. I want to remember record-setting crowds of 24,000+—not the reduced-capacity 18,000 or so that now pass through the turnstiles.

Will the newly updated Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center conjure up the same type of sweet memories? I’ll let you be the judge. Here are my top-5 significant changes I see coming into play.

1. If you’ve got deep pockets, your pre-game experience will be out of this world. Imagine being invited to the President’s reception. You’re rubbing elbows with the bigwigs, choking down shrimp cocktails, and helping yourself to endless shots of Pappy Van Winkle. As you make your way into your seats in time for tipoff, you’re so tipsy that you don’t care who the Cats are playing. I made sure I walked around every square foot of these opulent luxury lounges. Unless I win the lottery, it’s probably the last time I’ll set foot in one of these VIP havens.

2. The outside of Rupp Arena will no longer be the brown corrugated box we’ve all come to know and hate. Instead, they’re replacing it with a modern, sleek veneer like something out of the Jetsons. The triangular-shaped glass projection design above the entrance to the grand lobby promises to be the most dominant architectural structure anywhere in Kentucky. At least that’s what Bill Owen, Lexington Center President and CEO, tells us. If you’ve driven past High Street any time recently, you know the entire construction area still looks like a war zone. I guess I’ll believe it when I finally see it with my own eyes.

3. If you’re  hosting an event and want to further entertain and impress, there’ll be multiple options to choose from within the center. Picture this: having your reception on an elevated outdoor concourse overlooking the garden grounds of the Mary Todd Lincoln home. It’s happening (and I thought my back deck was looking nice). This’ll be something out of a fairytale, so make sure to book your plans early.

4. You want concerts? You got them, beginning with Eric Church on September 17 of this year. I learned today that many top musical acts (i.e. Bon Jovi) wouldn’t play Rupp previously simply because of the upper-level bleacher seating arrangements. As I mentioned earlier, that’s no longer a factor. Also, now with the numerous additional loading docks and the two giant drive-in doors, concert efficiency has improved a thousand percent. Even a Taylor Swift over-the-top production—with its multiple mobile dressing rooms and semi-trailers loaded with Taylor Swift type stuff—will now be able to maneuver seamlessly throughout the streamlined convention center grounds.

5. So what about the “average Joe” fan just wanting to take in a UK basketball game? If you haven’t made it into Rupp the last couple of years, you probably won’t recognize what you’re seeing. There’s a new video scoreboard, a circular ribbon board, and of course the new chairback seats up above. The arena is still as spacious and as symmetrical as ever, but it’s got a completely different feel than the Rupp of the past. The upgraded culinary facilities are certainly top notch, but I’m not sure if that will ever trickle down to any of the game-day concessions. I hope so because Rupp Arena still has some of the worst concession food of any of the college sports venues I’ve visited.

There you have it. You’re up to date now. Better convention hospitality, better concerts, better food (maybe), and better basketball (hopefully). It’s the new Rupp Arena at Lexington Center. I can’t wait to see the final product. Get your wallets out, folks. Whether you like it or not, you’ll be footing the rest of the bill.       

Hey Kentucky!

Hey Kentucky!

Derby week brings in a lot of out-of-state visitors. Here’s how to entertain and impress—even if you know nothing about horses, bourbon, or burgoo.

I’ve lived in the commonwealth for over the past half a century. Although not technically a native, I thought I knew enough about everything within our borders to qualify as an honorary Kentucky Colonel. Unfortunately, a first-time visit to the bluegrass state by my dear cousin, Linda, exposed me as a counterfeit fraud.

The truth is, I didn’t know nearly enough about the Kentucky I claim to love. When I tried to come up with a list of things that truly defined my home state, all I could muster was a weak and pathetic “we’re usually good at basketball.” I realized right then that to be a true Kentucky ambassador, I needed to repent and recommit.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s not too late for you to learn. Here are five easy steps to capturing visitor hearts.

Shower them with gifts immediately upon arrival

Making Linda feel welcome started me back on the road to redemption. Thank God for my sister-in-law Michelle. She came to the rescue and assembled a gift basket worthy of Daniel Boone.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Ale-8-One, and Ruth Hunt Candies got us all in the proper mood. Mix in a bag of Mingua Beef Jerky, throw in a couple of cellophane-wrapped Moon Pies, and you’ve got the makings of a distinctive bluegrass bounty.

Alan Cutler bonus tip: Anchor the basket with an autographed copy of Cut To The Chase!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GTJ2DSC

Dive right in with an afternoon at Keeneland

Fiancee Chris, Cousin Linda, Sister-in-law Michelle, and Brad Pitt in front of iconic Keeneland clock

What I really wanted to give Linda, however, was a true Kentucky experience. If it’s April or October, what better way to spread the love than by spending an afternoon at Keeneland? I’m not usually one for big crowds, loud drunks, or losing all my cash, but you have to admit that watching those regal animals run against such a stunning central Kentucky backdrop was like money in the bank. Linda, and her fiancée Chris, didn’t strike gold on the afternoon, but I’m sure they felt forever enriched by the totally novel encounter.

Tom Leach bonus tip: Bet on the burgoo. It’s a sure-fire winner every time.

A horse farm adventure gets you up close and personal

The horse escapades continued the very next morning with a tour of Mill Ridge Farm. Around eight hundred acres just a stone’s throw from Keeneland, Mill Ridge is a photographer’s paradise. I’ve never been on a horse farm tour. Have you? For California city folk used to urban blight and traffic jams, the gentle rolling hills, painted fences, and thoroughbreds galore provided for a fairytale oasis. More than once, Linda said to Chris, “Let’s get married here.”

Michael Bennett bonus tip: Need a jolt of testosterone? Be sure to meet Stud Stallion Oscar Performance just outside the breeding shed.

One of these studs gets to “perform” three times a day

Finding the perfect distillery tour

John, Chris, and Michael–Three stooges in search of the perfect Kentucky bourbon

What’s more Kentucky than bourbon, since 95% of the world’s bourbon is made right here in our own backyard? For a quick and convenient bourbon experience, we took Linda and Chris to the historic James E. Pepper Distillery on Manchester Street. How they resurrected the iconic brand is a story worth listening to. Of course if you’re there to drink bourbon, the free sample tastings will not disappoint.

Larry Vaught bonus tip: A ginormous slice of Goodfellows Pizza next door will quickly cleanse the white lightning burn from your soiled palate.

Linda and Chris. Nice appetizer. What’s for dinner?

The open road beckons

I’ve traveled the world over, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen natural beauty like you see in central Kentucky. The natives take it for granted. The kaleidoscope of colors with the dogwoods, crabapples, and redbuds in bloom—set against the dense greenery of the sloping hills and sleepy hollers—can’t help but flood your senses with the beauty of God’s creation. Pack a picnic lunch and just go wherever your heart leads you. If you have to set your GPS, a quick detour to Midway, an afternoon at Shakertown, or a leisurely stroll through Berea might be just what the doctor ordered.

A leisurely drive through horse country is as idyllic as you can get

Sister-in-law Michelle (former Ms. Wolfe County) bonus tip: Red River Gorge is the most beautiful place on earth. Miguel’s Pizza offers a little slice of heaven.

It’s always about the food

Foodies like us live to eat, and the perfect Kentucky experience has to satisfy the stomach. Kentucky is much more than just KFC. Whether it’s a Kentucky hot brown at Ramsey’s, a prime center-cut Anthony Davis NY strip at Malones, or spoon bread at Berea’s Boone Tavern, a bluegrass culinary extravaganza must leave you nearly crippled and comatose. Forget the calorie count and crash diets. You only live once, right?

Michael Huang bonus tip: Why leave home at all when Huang’s hometown kitchen offers the best in boiled crawfish, tomahawk steaks, and Chinese hot pots.

John, Michael, Michelle, Gabriel, Linda, Chris, and our 93-year-old family patriarch, Grandpa Pete enjoying a Kentucky crawfish boil in Huang’s hometown kitchen

When I asked Linda what she enjoyed most about her bluegrass visit, her answer was a bit surprising. “Just being with family,” she said.

That spoke volumes to me, and it’s part of my closing bonus tip: It doesn’t matter if you’re on the Champs-Elysees, sipping champagne and dining on escargot, if you don’t have someone meaningful to share it with, it probably won’t be memorable.

Our true and lasting memories begin and end with those we love. Everything else is just Facebook fluff. So, wherever you are on this particular Derby week, just give your loved ones a great big hug, throw some brats on the grill, and savor again the lasting memories of your Old Kentucky Home.

And one more thing…Kentucky is now very good at Volleyball!

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.

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.