The Most Beloved Coach in America

The Most Beloved Coach in America

Just mention the name Joe B. Hall, and everybody in Big Blue Nation goes gaga. After all, we’re talking about the basketball coach who followed in the footsteps of the legendary Adolph Rupp by leading Kentucky to their 5th National Championship in 1978. This is the same guy who won 297 games in his thirteen years at the Wildcat helm, and after retirement, became arguably the greatest ambassador for the program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball.

So imagine how excited I was to be able to read Coach Joe B. Hall’s brand-new book, “Coach Hall: My Life On and Off the Court.” Joe B. claims it’s not a basketball book, but I’ll have to disagree. Because to those of us who love UK sports, anything associated with our cherished Coach Hall is ultimately related to basketball.

Don’t anybody worry. I’m not going to spoil it for you. But here’s my take for those who want to know if the book is really any good.

Oh, it’s good all right—much better than I thought it would be. Granted, the suspense lags a bit as Joe shares stories about his youth, but it really ratchets up when basketball enters the picture. As Adolph Rupp steps on to the stage, the narrative suddenly goes ballistic.

I won’t say that Joe throws Coach Rupp under the bus. No—far from it. He maintains the same level of respect and deference for his mentor that we’ve always known him to have. But make no mistake about it, Joe goes out of his way to set the record straight on how Coach Rupp did everything in his power to avoid losing his job—including sabotaging Joe’s desire to follow in his footsteps. In Joe’s own low-key approach, he pokes fun at Coach Rupp in ways that made me laugh out loud. I thought I was fairly knowledgeable on what went on behind the scenes—but what Joe ultimately reveals will make you do several double takes.

The book’s an easy read. I finished it in one sitting in just a couple of hours, so don’t expect a whole lot of deep character development. In fact, most of the star players get just a quick mention, and there are only a few chapters devoted to some of the more memorable games. Not surprisingly, Bobby Knight comes across as the jerk that he is. And bring out the Kleenexes for his farewell to Katharine.

Overall, Marianne Walker does an excellent job of making the book readable, entertaining, and most importantly—an accurate portrayal of arguably the most beloved coach in the history of UK Basketball. If I had one major criticism, it’s that the book needed to be longer. It glossed over issues I thought needed closure. From that perspective, it didn’t do justice to the legacy Joe deserves.

Joe B’s popularity has skyrocketed since he stepped down as head coach after the 1984-85 season. Those of you familiar with the program back in the 80s surely remember when this grandfatherly figure from Cynthiana wasn’t loved by everyone. Believe it or not, a lot people wanted him fired.

Since confession is good for the soul, permit me to clear my conscience. I was one of those people who wanted Joe ousted after Kentucky lost to Middle Tennessee State University in the first round of the Mideast Regional of the 1982 NCAA Tournament. Are you kidding me? How can a team with all-stars such as Dirk Minniefield, Jim Master, Charles Hurt, Derrick Hord, Melvin Turpin, and Dicky Beal lose to an opponent with the likes of Ed “Pancakes” Perry and Lucious “Buck” Hailey?

“Joe can’t coach his way out of a wet paper bag,” I remembered saying to my dental school classmates. “Joe must go,” we all chanted. “Hall must fall,” the people screamed.

All these memories came flooding back to me a couple of months ago when I was invited, by Kentucky sports guru Oscar Combs, to former UK player Larry Stamper’s 70th birthday celebration. Of course, Coach Hall was also invited. The legend himself made the trip all the way from Louisville, and fortuitously (for me), ended up sitting immediately to my left.

Here was someone who was larger than life, who I had literally worshipped back in ’78 when the Cats won that first title of my lifetime. (Never mind, just five years later, I wanted him tarred and feathered—but that’s neither here nor there.) The point being now—nearly four decades later—I’m literally breaking bread with the basketball icon of my youth. You talk about living a dream!

We talked about that ’82 team…and when the moment was right, I admitted to him that I wanted him fired after the loss.

“So did a lot of other people,” Joe answered with a wry smile. “Welcome to the club.”

I think that’s exactly why Coach Joe B. Hall is the most beloved coach in America. Despite his exalted status, the guy remains forever approachable. If you ever saw him shopping in Sam’s Club, you felt like you could go up to him and talk hoops anytime. Don’t get me wrong—Coach Hall was serious about his coaching responsibilities, but he never took himself too seriously. As such, he never really got the credit that he deserved.

As the successor to Coach Rupp, Joe B. Hall was “the keeper of the flame.” He knew the importance Kentucky Basketball played in the lives of the people of the Commonwealth, and he guarded that knowledge with every ounce of his being. He knew how vital it was to keep not only the winning tradition, but the passion alive.

During his coaching tenure, Joe B. took a boatload of All-American primadonnas and not only made them winners on the basketball court but also instilled in them the discipline necessary to be productive young men. In other words, Coach Hall—through the players he coached—reflected (and continues to reflect) the glory that is Kentucky Basketball back to the rest of world. He made us all proud to be citizens of BBN.

As the party celebration wound down, I relished my time in the presence of Wildcat royalty. I sat enthralled—between bites of Larry Stamper’s delectable homemade banana pudding— listening to Larry and fellow teammate Jim Andrews reminisce about their playing days. I learned that Kevin Grevey and Jimmy Dan Conner were two of the messiest teammates around. I also learned about a harrowing plane ride down to Louisiana and the subsequent reason why Larry had a clunker of game against LSU.

All the while, Joe B. listened patiently, sat serenely, and just smiled—like a proud father watching over his precocious kids, basking in his own memories as the patriarch of the greatest blue-blooded family in the history of the game.

Godspeed Joe! Thank you so much for being exactly who you are. Here’s another big hug on behalf of a loving and grateful Big Blue Nation.

 

Welcoming Billy Gillispie

Welcoming Billy Gillispie

The other night, my friend and colleague, Keith Taylor, and I were talking about Bobby Knight. The guy goes by “Bob” now, but those of us old enough to remember the volatile chair-throwing, Joe B. Hall-back-of-the-head-slapping, Neil-Reed-choking, Puerto-Rico-policeman punching, IU-student-shaming, former Hoosier Basketball head coach, will always think of him as “Bobby.”

Indiana University, after a long and bitter estrangement, welcomed Knight back to Assembly Hall last week after giving him the pink slip nearly twenty years earlier. After a highly exalted thirty-year coaching career and guiding the red menace to three NCAA titles, it seemed to me like the proper thing to do. Forgive and forget, kiss and make up, and let bygones be bygones. Life is way too short to hold on to such vindictive grudges.

Keith then went on to write about Kentucky following Indiana’s lead and honoring its own bevy of former coaches. If the Hoosiers were willing to bury the hatchet and reconcile with Knight, then surely the Wildcats could do the same with Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino, and Tubby Smith.

I second Keith’s motion. In fact, I’ll go a step further. In addition to Sutton, Pitino, and Smith, let’s also honor Billy Gillispie while we’re at it. After all, he’s still a very real part of our Wildcat history and tradition—part of the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball. And history—whether good or bad—should be remembered, right?

Come to think of it, let’s honor them all. Line everybody who’s ever coached at Kentucky up at midcourt on a special “celebration of former coaches” night, and let’s shower them all with the recognition they deserve.

Granted, having Adolph Rupp back would be a bit awkward since he’s dead (as are the previous fifteen UK coaches who went before him). But it’s obvious the Baron of the Bluegrass is still quite revered among loyal Kentucky fans. Over forty years later, the arena the Wildcats play in still bears his name. It’s got a bank attached to it now, but I think the man who won 876 games and four NCAA Championships wouldn’t feel the least bit slighted. As tight as he was with his money, he probably would have embraced it—BY GAWD!

Nothing brings more joy to my soul than the sight of Joe B. Hall cheering on the Cats from his trademark seat a couple of rows off the floor at Rupp Arena (at Central Bank Center). At 91 years of age now, it’s getting harder and harder for him to make the trip in. Being the man who follows a legend is the most difficult job in sports. Joe B. did that with grace and class. Getting a well-deserved thunderous ovation when he’s introduced—for perhaps one of the final times—is something fans should readily savor.

Tubby Smith had a nice ten-year run in Lexington. Winning 263 games, one national title, and being inducted into the UK Athletic Hall of Fame is nothing to scoff at. Although he played Saul a little too much, and Tubby himself got a tad lazy on the recruiting trail in his later years, it’s still easy for fans to welcome him back with open arms, warm hugs, and blue kisses.

Here’s where it starts getting a little difficult.

Eddie Sutton once said he would crawl all the way to Lexington to take the Kentucky job. Four short years later, he was leaving town in disgrace with 88 wins and a scandalous program trailing in his wake. That mysterious Emory Freight package remains a mystery to this day. It was said back then that Kentuckians liked their hair and bourbon the same way—straight. Sutton had too little of the former and too much of the latter. He was a brilliant coach with an all-too-common flaw. It’s time for BBN to give him a mulligan and show him some love before it’s too late.

Talk about fatal flaws, how about Rick Pitino? He’s built his legacy on lies, sex, and strippers in the dorm rooms. But look at it this way—the guy did bring Kentucky Basketball back from the dead. In eight years as head coach, he got Kentucky 219 wins and another national title—two if you count the one Tubby won with his players. Unfortunately, he jilted BBN—first for the glory and riches of the NBA, and then again for the unforgivable slap-in-the-face gig with little brother down the road. It’s hard to forgive Benedict Arnold, but you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for his recent embarrassing fall from grace. What he did for Kentucky, however, deserves our genuine gratitude. I’m betting Kentucky fans will cheer rather than jeer when his name is finally called.

That brings us to Billy Gillispie. In only two short years, Billy Clyde took Kentucky from the penthouse to the outhouse. Embarrassing home losses to Gardner Webb and VMI notwithstanding, it was his inability to handle the day-to-day rigors of running the Roman Empire that eventually got him fired. He won 40 games in his abbreviated tenure, but the awkward interviews, player abuse allegations, and rumors of hot tub escapades just couldn’t be ignored.

As bizarre as all that sounds, you can’t pin all the blame on Billy. Without the proper training and support, he was put in a position where he was bound to fail. Since he left Kentucky, the poor guy has also struggled mightily with the bottle and battled some very serious health complications as well. A bad hire from the get-go, we owe Gillispie at least a tiny dose of sympathy if not a generous serving of compassion.

Despite the fact that Gillispie sued UK for $6 million in an attempt to recoup his lost salary, I say it’s time to turn the other cheek. In fact, someone far greater than me once said, “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

The University of Kentucky is the winningest college basketball program of all time. All of the aforementioned coaches have contributed to that win total. Like them or not, they’re all part of the grand legacy that is Kentucky Basketball. As loyal fans of the program, it’s time for all of us to take the high road, hand over our checkerboard coats, and welcome every one of those coaches back into our good graces.

If Indiana can welcome back Bobby Knight, Kentucky should go the extra mile and welcome back Billy Gillispie.

The Goat and the Lamb

The Goat and the Lamb

The 2019 Belk Bowl just might end up being one of my all-time favorite UK Football experiences. In order to preserve those exciting memories, I’m posting the column I wrote immediately afterwards. Storybook endings always have heroes. Here are two of my favorites.

Belk Bowl Bliss! – By Dr. John Huang

Lynn Bowden, Kash Daniel, lead Kentucky to symbolic Belk Bowl victory

(Charlotte, Nc.) – Kentucky’s 37-30 victory over Virginia Tech was a heck of a drama-producing bowl game. Anyone tuning in witnessed the stuff legends are made of.

THE GOAT, THE DRIVE—whatever else you want to call it—Lynn Bowden, Jr. deserves all the accolades. He’s the GOAT (the greatest of all time). Put him immediately on the Mt. Rushmore of Wildcat Football glory. Kentucky’s all-purpose quarterback-by-default this season did what legends do. He came, he fought, and he conquered the 2019 Belk Bowl.

Bowden’s crowning achievement was punctuated by another out-of-this-world stat line: 34 carries for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground; an additional 6 of 12 passes for 73 yards through the air. And yes…there was that final game-winning 13-yard toss to Josh Ali with only 15 ticks left on the clock.

You really couldn’t write a better storybook ending. With his team trailing 30-24 and 8:25 left in the game, Bowden leads his team down the field on an epic 18-play, 85-yard, 8 minute and 10 second drive that will surely go down as one of the greatest in UK Football lore. As the precious few seconds ticked away—and as everyone and their brother was thinking he would run—Bowden surprised everyone with his perfect touch pass towards the back of the end zone.

“Y’all said I couldn’t throw,” said the Belk Bowl MVP, chiding the media afterwards.

Although the game kicked off at noon on New Year’s Eve, the fireworks had started way before that. First there was the dust-up at the Charlotte Motor Speedway between Bowden and several Hokie players. That led to the pregame scuffle where Bowden admittedly threw a punch that was caught on camera.

“It’s a lot of emotion,” Bowden confessed. “I could have hurt my team and not been out there tonight with them, so I just apologized to my program, my teammates. We respect Virginia Tech. And if I could go back, I wouldn’t do it. But it’s in the past. You know, champion.”

Champion indeed. With the victory, Kentucky (8-5) ends the year on a four-game winning streak for the first time since 1977. The Wildcats win at least eight games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006-07. They also earn a bowl victory in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the team won three straight from 2006-08.

If Lynn Bowden is the GOAT, then surely Kash Daniel must be the LAMB. I’m not sure I’ve seen any other UK player sacrifice personal glory for the good of the team than the Paintsville native did this past year. For whatever reasons, Kash went from highly exalted team leader to sacrificial afterthought just when Bowden’s star began its rise. It was perplexing when fans suddenly started calling him out for his supposed deficiencies on the field. “He shouldn’t be playing ahead of so and so,” the people cried out. “He’s nothing but a glorified hype man,” they mocked.

If confession is good for the soul, then Kash should be a beacon of virtue. The senior linebacker seemed to be especially critical of himself as he reflected on the end of his UK career.

“I never claimed myself to be a good player—a great player,” he admitted. “I never talked about myself when I’ve done anything good. I’ve always been critical of myself and how I can always get better. I’ve never been that athletic. I’m probably one of the least athletic dudes on this defense. I’m not that fast. Trust me, I get it. People tell me that all the time. I get it.”

Fittingly, Daniel led the defensive effort against Virginia Tech with eight tackles—proving once again that some things are more important than outright athleticism. Of course, winning teams need superstar talents like Lynn Bowden. But they also need selfless teammates like Kash Daniel.

“I want Kentucky fans just to know that I gave everything I had,” Daniel said. But if all I’m remembered as is a media clown and a hype guy, then I think I’ve failed. I just hope people think of me as a hard-working player who always gave everything he had. Played hurt, played sick, played everything.”

The GOAT has delivered, the LAMB has given his all, and KENTUCKY is Belk Bowl Champion.

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

 

Compassionate Cal

Compassionate Cal

Is Kentucky’s head basketball coach really going soft?

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – When God was dishing out compassion, it seemed like he skipped over college basketball coaches. Just tune in nowadays to any game broadcast, and you’ll know exactly what I mean. You’ll be treated to the spectacle of grown men—who otherwise are highly respected pillars in their communities—ranting and raving at young men less than half their age, as if somehow demon possessed. Nowhere else in society, except in athletic competition, can you experience such unmitigated lunacy.

That’s not exactly the case with Fairleigh Dickinson’s head basketball coach Greg Herenda. His team was thrashed by Kentucky 83-52 Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena, but you didn’t see Herenda spewing expletives at the refs or throwing tantrums on the sidelines. You didn’t see him endlessly yelling at his assistants or berating his players during timeouts. You most likely saw him inspiring his players with verbal encouragement and supporting them with compassionate hugs.

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In a telephone conversation with Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader, the 58-year-old Herenda explained how a life-threatening illness less than two years earlier changed his entire coaching perspective and demeanor.

Herenda was attending the 2018 Final Four in San Antonio when he was rushed to the hospital after he collapsed while walking on the River Walk. The doctors discovered two blood clots in his leg. Afterwards, he remembers having a 104.5-degree fever and his leg being swollen to three times its normal size. He was diagnosed with May-Thurner syndrome—a blood vessel disorder—and was hospitalized for a week in intensive care. During his recovery, Herenda was initially confined to a wheelchair before eventually graduating to a walker, and then a cane.

Herenda told Tipton that this experience made him rethink how coaches usually deal with players—and that a typical coaching personality is likened to a drill sergeant with bunions.

“I think it makes you stop and think,” Herenda said. “I’ve kind of slowed down a little bit…I think ‘perspective’ is the word. I think I have things in better perspective. When I was a young coach, it was non-stop. And it was every play and coaching every play and refereeing every call.”

Hmm, that ‘coaching every play’ mentality seems very familiar to many of us. Kentucky fans see it all the time with John Calipari’s demonstrative behavior on the sidelines. Herenda and Calipari go back a ways—in fact, all the way back to their coaching days three decades earlier at the famed Five-Star basketball camps.

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“It’s funny, it hasn’t changed that much,” Herenda answered pensively, when I asked him how Calipari’s coaching style had morphed over the years. “John Calipari was born to coach…I can’t believe he’s 60. He’s got energy, and he flies all over the world, and he does so many good things for people.”

Not one to leave any stone unturned, I asked Coach Cal directly about how he thinks his compassion toward his players has evolved over the past few decades.

“So, early in your career, you’re in a dogfight,” said BBN’s beloved hall of fame coach. “Everything is a struggle. Everything is a fight to survive…When I get together with the UMASS guys, like, I apologize. I know what I was like…So when they see me coach in practice now, they say, ‘You got soft.’”

Here’s what it comes down to. Behaving like a lunatic is readily accepted in today’s sports culture. Those John Wooden days of watching passively from your bench are long gone. Any coach worth his contract has to show the world he’s passionately into the game. The crazier the histrionics, the better your chances of getting noticed on SportsCenter.

But here’s the rub. Despite the bulging eyes and flying spittle, the players you’re coaching have to know that you truly care about them as people. If that’s the case, you can flail your arms, scream, and make a complete idiot of yourself…and they’ll still be willing to run through a brick wall for you. The minute that compassion ends, however, you’re dead to them and the rest of the world as well.

“These kids need me in a different way than kids in the past,” Calipari continued. “They need more individual meetings. They need to know, yes, I do love you, even though I’m hard on you.”

Cal soft 2

With John Calipari, his ‘players first’ slogan isn’t necessarily his mantra for getting superstars into the NBA (although it is a pretty effective recruiting pitch). It’s really his philosophy on treating his players right. Personally, I’d prefer not to hear him use such salty language on the court, but if that’s what it takes to get these 18-year-old basketball prodigies to respond positively, then who am I to judge?

In the dental profession, we had a saying that was fairly universal. “Patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That pearl of wisdom can easily be transferred to basketball coaches and their players. Evidently, both Greg Herenda and John Calipari have—in their own different ways—taken it directly to heart.

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This column appeared in the December 11, 2019 print editions of Nolan Group Media Publications.

Heart of Big Blue Nation

Heart of Big Blue Nation

Hey Everyone, I want to announce the launch of a brand spanking new project that’s soon to take flight. It’s a creative idea that’s been bouncing around in my brother Michael’s head for the past couple of years. You’ve probably heard of Michael. He’s the photographer for Kentucky Sports Radio and goes by the moniker Dr. Mike. According to his wife Michelle, Michael’s the greatest photographer who’s ever lived. He’s no Ansel Adams in my book, but I’ll have to admit he’s pretty good at what he does.

You see, Michael, Michelle, and I have all been long-term, die-hard Kentucky fans ever since we can remember. We all still have nightmares about the Laettner shot, we all think Coach Cal should have won at least two more championships, and we all agree that following UK sports may be the highlight of our very lives.Huangs

In other words, we’re no different than most of you. The one major distinction is that despite having had full-time medical and dental careers, the Huang brothers somehow lucked their way onto press row as bona fide UK media members.

Here’s the plan for the aforementioned project. As fans, Michael, Michelle, and I know the pride and joy of being a part of the greatest fan base in all of sports. Sure, we’re as passionate as anyone else about winning ballgames, but deep down inside, we’ve always sensed that citizenship within the BBN is about much more than that. There’s a special bond that Wildcat fans have to their program and a connection to one another that you just can’t find anywhere else. We’ve observed that first-hand as objective media members. Our goal now is to try and find out exactly why that is.

Since this project is about you—the Kentucky True Blue fan—we need your help. Over the next few months, the three of us will be compiling a series of photos and stories about your love affair with the BBN. Michael will have his camera, I’ll have my pen, and together with Michelle, we’ll be seeking out the most passionate, the most poignant, and the most powerful stories you have to tell.

Your narrative can include something as simple as your first memories as a Wildcat fan, or the reason you act so crazy after a loss, or how you got tongue-tied meeting that famous UK player. All we ask is that it be interesting, entertaining, and emotion-evoking. The more unique, the funnier, the more thought-provoking, the more tear-jerking—the better.

Our hope is that the end result will be something akin to https://www.humansofnewyork.com, but obviously with a decidedly Kentucky flavor. In other words, we want to capture your Big Blue Hearts.

So, when you see us at the different venues in the upcoming weeks, flag us down. Tell us your story in your own words and pose for that picture that’ll ultimately make you famous. If you make the cut, we’ll put you on our website https://heartofbbn.com/. If your story’s really compelling, you’ll make it into the book.

Either way, we’ll be sharing your love, your fandom, and your heart for BBN with the rest of the world. It’s a venture that’s long overdue. Now, Go Big Blue!

If you want to be a part of this project, contact Heartofbbn@gmail.com. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs for updates.

Fair Pay To Play Is Foul Play

Fair Pay To Play Is Foul Play

Coach John Calipari loves to talk. During his press conferences, he’s likely to babble on endlessly about who knows what. Most of the time, if you ask him a specific question, his answer will have nothing to do with what you originally asked. When Cal gets on one of his infamous rants—whether it’s about his former players in the NBA, or his quest to end generational poverty, or his current players pooping ice cream—I usually end up tuning him out.

However, Coach Cal said something the other day that may have slipped under the radar. Ironically, it had to do with the hot topic of the day—that dad gum California Fair Pay to Play law that will allow student-athletes to profit from their own likeness while still enrolled in school. Although he said he hadn’t had a chance to digest the specifics, it sounded like our hall of fame coach was speaking out against the new California Senate Bill 206.

“My biggest concern is that we minimize and diminish education,” Calipari conceded when pressed on his opinion of the new law. “The reality of it is, the players that have that opportunity to go (to the NBA straight from high school), it’s one percent. So we’re going to do everything to make this about all the other stuff and diminish education.”

I couldn’t agree more. Since when has the value of an athletic scholarship been so trivialized?

Growing up as a child of immigrants pursuing the American dream, I was told often by my parents that a good education was the key to future opportunity. I heeded their sage advice, studied hard, and pursued as many degrees as I possibly could. I ended up doing pretty well for myself—but it was my parents who paid the price of my in-state tuition with their hard-earned dollars.

If you would have told my mom and dad that I could have had a top-notch college education, complete with, room, board, books, a stipend, 24-hour food service, free shoes, nutritional counseling, fitness training, academic tutoring, state-of-the-art health care, and high-level coaching—all while traveling around the country on charter flights and plush hotels to play ball—they would have thought they’d hit the lottery. In a way they would have, as a four-year scholarship and all the associated amenities nowadays can escalate well over a quarter of a million dollars.

Since when is that not enough? Why do we feel the need to constantly stoke the fires of free enterprise, capitalism, and greed—at the expense of a bona fide college education?

Not only is the suggestion of allowing student-athletes on scholarship to start monetizing their name, image and likeness (NIL) an insult to the value of an educational scholarship, it also opens up a Pandora’s Box that I don’t want to deal with as an alumni and fan.

I’ll go on and say it—I don’t want anyone on a full athletic scholarship being distracted by the lure of earning a wheelbarrow full of cash on the side. I don’t want that used car dealer on Richmond Road funneling $50K a year into Khalil Whitney’s pockets, when that money could have been used to provide air conditioning for Memorial Coliseum. I don’t want that snarky orthodontist down the street capitalizing on Tyrese Maxey’s infectious smile at the expense of a facelift for the Hillary Boone Tennis Complex. I don’t want Lynn Bowden signing autographs at the local sports bar during bye week when he should be preparing to take snaps at quarterback.

Numbers don’t lie. Anything going into the players’ pockets will ultimately come out of the university’s coffers. If you’re a high-end donor, why contribute to the university when you can pay the player directly? Less money for the university means less funding for facilities upgrades and lower budgets for the lesser sports programs.

If that’s not detrimental enough, think about the potential internal strife within a program itself. What would happen if the shady orthodontist referenced above wanted to pay freshman Tyrese Maxey $100K for his intoxicating smile while allocating a measly $10K for Nick Richards’ gap-toothed grin. Might have a bit of an effect on team chemistry—wouldn’t you say?

These student-athletes are busy enough hitting the books and the practice courts. They don’t need to be out there in the wild west filming commercials or posing for billboards at the mercy of unscrupulous boosters. What would happen, God forbid, if they ended up being a bust and having to transfer out? My point is this—if these student-athletes are already riding comfortably on their university’s scholarship gravy train, then let them wait until they graduate before selling off their body parts.

I agree with Coach Cal. Let the five or six players who are good enough each year go directly to the NBA. For the other 99% graciously benefitting from their scholarships—let’s not let ignorant self-serving politicians throw the baby out with the bath water.

Or better yet—let’s just take Coach Cal’s car dealership endorsements and split them evenly within the team. That way, everybody wins!

If you enjoy my writing, please check out my musings on University of Kentucky sports on my new website at www.justthecats.com, or follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

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.

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