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.

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

There’s Something About Macy

There’s Something About Macy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Macy unwelcome? YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!

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

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

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

 

 

A Little Extra Motivation

A Little Extra Motivation

By DR. JOHN HUANG, Nolan Group Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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