A Week Like No Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

As Good As It Gets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love My Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancing in The Swamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

What if Joel Osteen Coached Kentucky Football?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Coach Bobblehead

The term “make or break” is far too often used to describe a season poised on the slippery slope of either astounding success or demoralizing failure. Once again this year, a tortured Kentucky football fan base is perched precariously on such a slope—with emotions running high and patience running low. Whether he likes it or not, head coach Mark Stoops finds himself in that proverbial make or break year entering his sixth season at the Wildcat helm. A 26-36 (12-28 SEC) won-loss record and back-to-back bowl appearances is nothing to scoff at, but neither is it something that will put talk of buyouts and hot seats to permanent rest. This is the year to poop or get off the pot, fish or cut bait, win big or strike out.

Stoops’ most lasting off-the-field legacy may just have been his ceremonial pitch at the Lexington Legends game this past summer. The 51-year-old Youngstown, Ohio native threw a perfect strike from the top of the mound. Not coincidentally, that evening was also Coach Mark Stoops Bobblehead night. As one of the many fans gifted with a plastic replica of his nodding oversized noggin, I thought it appropriate to ask Coach Bobblehead the following questions that all True Blue inquiring minds want to know.

Q: The first question deals obviously with the starting quarterback mystery. With Stephen Johnson graduated and Drew Barker giving up football, Kentucky is left with four potential starting quarterbacks who have never thrown a pass in a real live game. In this age of automatic redshirts and well-planned transitions, how does that even happen? Redshirt sophomores Gunnar Hoak and Touchdown Terry Wilson are apparently neck in neck for the starting honors against Central Michigan on September 1. Redshirt freshmen Danny Clark and Walker Wood remain a couple of steps behind. Whoever emerges the victor will have to rely on a veteran offensive line with at least one returning player at every position to offset their own youth and inexperience. OK Coach, with that in mind, who’s going to start at QB this year?

Coach Bobblehead: (just nods)

Q: For somebody who built his reputation on coaching players in the secondary, Kentucky’s secondary under Stoops’ tutelage has been abysmal. Last season, the Wildcats finished 13th in the league in pass defense despite returning nearly every starter. The supposedly all-star caliber talent the likes of Chris Westry, Derrick Baity, Mike Edwards, Darius West, and Lonnie Johnson gave up a whopping 3,271 yards—tied for the second most yards given up by a Kentucky defense dating back to the end of World War II. The good news this year is that Kentucky’s defensive line should be much better, thus taking some of the pressure off of the aforementioned secondary. Despite the supposed improvement in the defense across the board, the coach is still responsible for covering the Florida receivers, right?

Coach Bobblehead: (just nods)

Q: Kentucky’s conference schedule may once again be their undoing. As is usual and customary every year, the so-called experts pick Stoops’ troops to finish near the bottom of the pack. As if road games at Florida, at Texas A&M, at Missouri, and at Tennessee weren’t challenging enough, the Wildcats also face a murderer’s row of returning all-star caliber opposing quarterbacks. Missouri’s Drew Lock, Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur, South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald all are back after finishing in the top 10 in passing in the league last year. Hey Coach, if you couldn’t stop them last year, how in the world do you expect to contain them this year?

Coach Bobblehead: (just nods)

Q: Back in the summer, Coach Stoops described the drug related arrest of former safety Marcus Walker as something that really hurt the program. That’s probably an understatement given the fact that police found more than $95,000 in cash and 52 grams of cocaine inside Walker’s apartment near campus. Although swiftly dismissed from the team, it simply was not a good look for everyone involved. The incident with sophomore offensive tackle E.J. Price and his bizarre tweets this past spring also wasn’t a good look for the program. There’s been so much speculation about what happened during the few hours that Price was apparently off and then mysteriously back on the team that I thought Coach Stoops might want to enlighten us.

Coach Bobblehead: (just nods)

Well, there you have it—an interview chocked full of as much information as if the real live Mark Stoops were here answering the questions. As you can see—just like the real Coach Stoops—Coach Bobblehead has remained fairly mum about many aspects of his team and how he expects the season to play out. Perhaps he’s feeling the pressure of the upcoming “make or break” year. It’s more likely that he’s biting his tongue right before unleashing his sixth-year juggernaut on an unsuspecting football world.

Despite inexperience at quarterback, an underperforming defensive secondary, a murderous schedule, and some off the field turmoil, Kentucky counters with potentially their best running back, their best tight end, and one of their most talented receivers to date in their inglorious history. Benny Snell, C.J. Conrad, and Lynn Bowden together with a drastically improved defensive line could easily flip the script on this team from “break” to “make.”

Do I think it’ll happen? It’s still a bit too early to tell. A lot will depend on quarterback play. Once Kentucky returns home from Gainesville after their tilt with the Florida Gators, things will begin to crystallize. That’s only the second game of the season, but I think we’ll know something by then. Any final thoughts, Coach?

Coach Bobblehead: (nods and winks)

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

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

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

 

 

Big Blue World

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Although basketball is already big in China, Kentucky Basketball has yet to make a splash in the land of Genghis Khan and Chairman Mao. Beginning this upcoming season, however, that’s all about to change. Chinese fans from Beijing to Binzhou, from Shanghai to Shanxi, from Tiananmen Square to the Terracotta Army will now be able to tune in to Mandarin based broadcasts of UK Basketball games distributed through the JMI Sports Network.

How big is this news? It’s huge—let me tell you why. Chinese people have always loved basketball. Unfortunately, we’ve just never been any good at it. Most of us are short, slow, and we can’t create our own shot to save our life. Other than Yao Ming, name me one other Chinese player who made it to the NBA. Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Bateer were outright busts. Yi Jianlian and Sun Yue never panned out. Jeremy Lin was a flash in the pan, and many don’t even classify him as a real Chinese. Just by sheer numbers alone, a country of 1.4 billion people should have produced more than this small handful of professional prospects.

Despite our shortcomings, Chinese people are no different than anyone else. We all love a winner—and who better a winner than the school currently laying claim to the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball. You heard it here first. Once these audio game broadcasts are available, hundreds of thousands of Chinese basketball fans worldwide will flock to the antics of PJ, EJ, and DJ. They’ll learn all about our 8 national championships, the house that Rupp built, and the colossal devotion of the BBN. They’ll absolutely fall in love with Coach Cal’s magical touch as they quickly succumb to the Chinese version of his blue Kool-Aid.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. UK AD Mitch Barnhart has always claimed that his athletic programs serve as the front porch for those wanting to become a part of the University of Kentucky. If that’s truly the case, imagine all those future potential enrollees in China, developing an early allegiance to the Big Blue, while listening to the Wildcats claw their way to Championship Number Nine. They’ll be quick to learn that Lexington, Kentucky is also where their NBA heroes—such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and Karl Towns played their college ball. Trust me, in subsequent years they’ll be beating down the doors to admission, adding to the coffers of the ever-growing UK treasury. Sponsors should also be forming a line as we speak. You think McDonald’s and Coca Cola would be interested in adding a billion people to their marketing base?

Don’t believe me yet about the magnitude of this broadcast reach? Let me introduce you to Haotian (Austin) Zhang, the talent who’s been tabbed to handle the primary broadcasting duties during these games. Some of you may already know Austin as the prominent Asian dude donning the Kentucky Jersey in the front row of the ERUPPtion Zone. Austin recently graduated from the school of his dreams with a business degree in management. Fortunately for all of us, he’s been accepted into the UK Master of Science in Finance program and will be around for quite some time. Already one of the biggest UK basketball fans I know, he’s looking forward to the challenge of being the first Chinese Cawood Ledford.

“Coach Cal and John Wall makes me know UK,” Austin enthusiastically answers, when asked about why he chose the University of Kentucky. “Anthony Davis makes me love UK. Karl Towns make me proud of UK.”

Austin recently gained fame by directly asking John Calipari during his Coach’s show why he didn’t recruit Chinese players to UK. Knowing Coach Cal, he’ll use these broadcasts to get tabs on the next great Chinese Lebron, currently oblivious to Wildcat ways—but through the magic of the world wide web, will soon be a passionate disciple of the BBN. Kentucky recruit James Wiseman allegedly also speaks Chinese. Are you listening, James?

Watch out Chinese world, Big Blue Nation is coming for you.

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