Win One for The Gipper

Win One for The Gipper

Photo Credit: Morgan Simmons/UK Athletics

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – The Gipper in this case is the University of Kentucky.

In his Knute Rockne speech to the Kentucky Baseball team prior to the beginning of the season, Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart advised the players to put all pressures aside and just focus on doing everything for the good of the team.

“Make it about Kentucky,” he said…and everything else will take care of itself.

Perhaps truer words were never spoken. How else to explain the Wildcats’ stunning resurrection back into postseason play after the crushing disappointments of a seemingly endless, five-year drought? Truthfully speaking, no one saw this coming. What’s more, not only do Coach Nick Mingione’s troops find themselves back in the NCAA Tournament, but they’re also hosting a Regional for the first time in Kentucky Proud Park history.

Even as the new ballpark was just a gleam in Mitch Barnhart’s eye, the goal was always to play meaningful postseason ballgames in this $49 million palatial palace. For die-hard Kentucky Baseball fans, the wait has been interminable—like death from a thousand paper cuts as the program sank year after year into conference bottom-feeder obscurity. Mercifully, the dry spell has ended. The floodgates of living water have finally poured forth as the official baptism of Kentucky Proud Park begins this Friday at high noon.

Twelfth-seeded Kentucky (36 – 18) takes on Ball State (36 – 21) in the beginning round of the double-elimination format. West Virginia (39 – 18) and Indiana (41 – 18) square off in the nightcap on the other half of the regional bracket.

“Pumped up and ready to roll,” said seventh-year pitcher (yes, you read that right) Darrin Williams. “We were all excited when we heard our name called.”

For Williams, this postseason is a coronation of sorts. He knows all the tireless work it’s taken to get here. All those 6 a.m. workouts and fall practices and coming back from devastating injuries building up into one final magical run with his teammates. And for the 6 – 6 right hander who grew up a huge Wildcat fan, he believes this group of teammates is indeed exceptionally special.  

“This team’s selfless,” Williams quickly responded when asked why he thought that. “Right now, all that matters is winning a few games here, getting on to the next weekend, and extending the season one more week. It’s twenty-seven dudes who want to go all in to win.”

“I’ve been on tenth place teams in my conference before,” the graduate student from nearby Mason County continued.  “I can tell you it’s different. The winning culture that we have right now, that we’ve made in the last two years since I’ve been here, is unbelievable. That’s a testament to not just the guys in the locker room now but the guys in the locker room last year who helped us with our run.”

It’s also a testament to his Coach—a guy who’s been through if not the fire, then at least a very smoking hot seat the last couple of seasons. Mingione acknowledged how difficult it’s been for him personally walking through the flames. Many speculated that his job would be in jeopardy if the team didn’t make the tournament this year.

“We’ve been through a lot,” Mingione confessed “We all have. Personally, professionally, we all have our stories. If anybody acts like life’s been easy and it’s been a cakewalk, I think we’re lying…. I’ve been doing this for seventeen years. I’ve been at the very top and I’ve been all the way at the bottom. It’s a really challenging thing. But that’s what makes the beauty of it, for times like this, to watch the guys see their names up there and be excited. A lot of people deserve a lot of credit.”

Mingione deserves a lot of the credit for the turnaround. He put together the schedule and got everyone to execute. Through it all, it wasn’t lost on Coach that his athletics director’s words were directed at more than just his players. They were aimed pointedly at Coach Mingione—and possibly at all of us watching passively from the peanut gallery.

“Mitch was talking to everybody,” Mingione surmised. “When you don’t make it about yourself, you literally show up every day and just try to serve. Whether it’s your teammates, your players, your coaches, your staff members, your families, whoever. When you don’t make it about you, it is so much more rewarding. The second we try to make it about us, that is a trap. It leads to a road of sadness and failure. It’s not healthy.”

MAKE IT ABOUT KENTUCKY! Wow, isn’t that a novel idea? In this era of NIL and transfer portal and the what’s in it for me mentality, how refreshing and liberating it must be to be able to really put the team above all else. To lay aside individual goals and just play for the name on the front of the jersey.

Somehow, the Kentucky baseball team has managed to do just that in the gauntlet that is the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats rank first in strength of schedule, non-conference RPI, batting average, doubles, triples, steals, sacrifices, and fielding percentage. When it all comes together, it just means more. It’s a redemption story piercing all our big blue hearts.

See you this weekend. However it all plays out, I think The Gipper would be pleased.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Baseball Column for Nolan Group Media publications. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Passion of the (West Coast) Christ

Passion of the (West Coast) Christ

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time out here in Southern California. It’s always wonderful visiting with my daughter and eating ourselves silly at the countless ethnic restaurants in our immediate neighborhood. My morning runs down to the beach with my new son-in-law have been invigorating as well as humbling. Those eight-minute miles are a thing of the past for me. CJ, on the other hand, trains for triathlons. I tell him to come back when he’s sixty and let’s see how fast he can shuffle his feet then.

One thing I’ve forced myself to do during my extended stay out west is to look for church services to attend on Sunday. Unfortunately, I got into the online rut during the midst of the Covid pandemic and never fully recovered. There’s nothing wrong with watching YouTube sermons from the sanctity of your treadmill, but you soon realize you’re missing the brunt of what true worship is all about.

Like many of you, I’ve heard rumors that real religion simply doesn’t exist on the West Coast. According to Fox News, SoCal is a virtual Christian wasteland—a bastion of heretics and atheists who sleep in on Sundays. The Bible Belt it’s not. Do churches even exist out here?

To make matters worse, I have no car and am too cheap to uber, so I’m a bit restricted in where I can attend. Wherever I land, I’ll be walking. I figure a two-mile radius around my condo would be a good place to start. Lo and behold, three solid choices pop up on my trusty travel app.

Choice No. 1

Choice No. 1 is a church I’ve passed many times walking to the Brentwood Farmer’s Market. It seems welcoming enough with greeters in a courtyard right before entering the sanctuary. As I make my tentative approach, I realize how much I despise doing stuff like this. I’m a stranger in a strange land who hates small talk and mindless chitchat. Looking for a new church family is like nails on a chalkboard.

Nevertheless, I put on my best “I’m glad to be here” smile and walk past the greeters with nary an acknowledgement. They’re too busy talking amongst themselves anyway to say anything to me. Oh well, so much for first impressions.

Entering the sanctuary, I notice that it’s small and there are just a handful of people seated. I strategically find a seat in the back away from everyone just in case I need to make a quick exit.  Thank God for cell phones. I bury my face in mine and pretend that I’m preoccupied. Remember, I’m not here to glad hand and make new friends. I’m just here on reconnaissance—like Joshua and Caleb in the land of milk and honey.

Ten minutes later, the sanctuary is still empty. I know there’s trouble in paradise when the pastor refers repeatedly to the pandemic and how the congregation has not yet rebounded. I feel as though he’s apologizing directly to me. Honestly, it’s a bit awkward.

We then go through the usual worship songs, the announcements, the obligatory meet and greet your neighbor (I just stare down at my cellphone screen), the ever-important offering, and finally the sermon.

It’s actually pretty good. Right out of 2 Corinthians with an emphasis on God’s grace being sufficient for all of us. The message is scriptural, and best of all…not too long. When it’s over, we’re dismissed, and no one says a word to me on the way out.

Choice No. 2

The next week, it’s on to choice No. 2. This church claims to be non-denominational and has services in three languages—English, Spanish, and Farsi. That’s the thing I’ve noticed on a lot of church websites here in California. There’s a ton of diversity. This church proves no different. I’m a Chinese guy with a ponytail—and I’m blending right in.

Unlike last week, I even get a quick “good morning” as I enter the foyer. I prepare for a tsunami of friendliness coming my way. Standing for the worship songs, I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder. Gotta be another brother in Christ welcoming me into the congregation, right?

“Could you please sit down,” says the blue-haired lady seated behind me. “I can’t see the video screens.”

“Then you need to move up to the front, you mean-spirited battle axe,” I replied.

Actually, I didn’t say that. Remember, this is church. But I’m kind of ashamed to say I actually did think that for a second.

Once again, the sermon was good and right on point—this time from the book of James. Something about taming the tongue and how it’s a restless evil. This pastor was, however, a bit long winded. He reminded me of a lot of the preachers back home. I guess they can’t help themselves—all cut from the same cloth.

Scampering out after the benediction, I realized the only person who actually spoke to me was the blue-haired battle axe. Maybe this is just the way church services operate in California. It’s a toned down, silent type of community—not the fake and insincere, in your face type of pious social interaction I was expecting and perhaps dreading. Hmmm, perhaps I can find a good church home here after all without having to bare my soul to strangers.

Choice No. 3

A week later, it’s on to choice No. 3. I notice immediately that the vibe at this church is a bit different. There are boatloads of young people bopping to the beat of the worship music, hands raised and hearts bowed, belting out the words scrolling on the video screen as naturally as if they’re singing in their own showers.

Ten minutes later, the beat goes on, and my feet start getting tired. Thirty minutes later, they’re still singing and worshipping. Fifty-five minutes in, the preacher takes the microphone…and he starts singing himself.

How long can this go on? I’ve got places to be and people to see.

Finally, I kid you not, AN HOUR AND FIFTEEN MINUTES into this worship extravaganza, they finally invite us to take a seat. Look, I’ve been to numerous mega-church grand productions where the music drones on and on, but this was on a totally different level. Sure, I was a bit taken aback by how long they made me stand, but I was also inspired and encouraged by the passion pouring forth—a true and unpretentious offering to the Lord like nothing I had ever experienced before. I walked out of the service surprisingly nourished—although once again I realized I hadn’t spoken a word to anyone.

I guess if finding a semi-permanent church home was the goal of this experiment, then it’s three strikes and I’m out. I’m nowhere closer to joining a church out here than when I first arrived. But I’m no longer worried about becoming lost in the wasteland of scientology and witchcraft either. I’ve heard the Word of God preached directly from the pulpit, and I’ve seen the Holy Spirit working amongst the lost.

Throughout my spiritual walk, I’ve had to constantly remind myself that church is not about me. It’s about worshipping God together with a group of like-minded believers in Jesus. You can find that anywhere if you look hard enough. Wherever you are today, I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and explore the different faith congregations worshipping around your neighborhood. You might be surprised at the passion you’ll find. And who knows, you might just discover your own passion of the (West Coast) Christ without uttering a single word to anyone.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently serves as a freelance reporter and sports columnist. He is the author/coauthor of four books, Cut To The Chase, Kentucky Passion, From The Rafters Of Rupp, and Serving Up Winners. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Serving Up Winners

Serving Up Winners

I once asked Larry Vaught, the esteemed and well-respected Kentucky sportswriter, why he didn’t write books for a living. After all, he’s supremely gifted, survived multiple media wars, and has enough golden stories stockpiled in his memory arsenal to fill Fort Knox.

“Too much work,” he replied dismissively. “I live a good life. Why ruin it?”

Larry was absolutely right. If you want to dive head first into a project that will eat up your valuable time, drive you batty in the process, and provide pennies on the dollar in royalty returns, then writing a book is right up your alley. In other words, DON’T DO IT…unless…

Unless you have a story to tell.

I’ve always loved tennis. I was quick on my feet and could endlessly run that baseline. What I lacked in true skill and athleticism, I more than made up with interest and enthusiasm. I was so dedicated to that fuzzy yellow ball that one summer I even received a free t-shirt as champion of the intermediate division of my Shillito Park recreation league. I was your proverbial student of the game and followed its stars with unbridled passion.

So, imagine my surprise when the great Coach Dennis Emery approached me to collaborate on his upcoming book project. Realizing that this was the great Dennis Emery—the winningest tennis coach in University of Kentucky history and one of the most decorated coaches in the collegiate game—I jumped at the chance.

Here was a Hall of Fame inductee with six hundred and fifty-five head coaching career wins, twenty-three NCAA tournament appearances, and three SEC championships teaching me intricacies about the game I loved and telling me stories about the greats I idolized.

Here was a legend who had coached thirty-nine All-Americans, three of whom advanced to the NCAA tournament singles final. Talk about living the dream. As John McEnroe once famously said, “You cannot be serious!”

What resulted is a book that both of us are extremely proud of. It’s first and foremost a labor of love. It’s a legacy book where Coach Emery wanted to share his tennis experience with other up-and-coming coaches looking to develop players and build their teams. As the youngest full-time head coach in the history of college tennis, he took a dormant program with no facilities and built it into a national juggernaut.

“Coach Emery transformed the University of Kentucky’s men’s tennis program into one that is a perennial power and competes at the highest level annually,” Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari wrote in the book’s foreword. “And the greatest testament to him and what he built? It has sustained success even with him no longer at the helm.”

If you hadn’t noticed, Kentucky Tennis remains a highly ranked program and still competes regularly for conference and national titles. And yet, it consistently flies under the radar. Given its accomplishments on the court, it’s arguably the most under-appreciated athletic program on the Wildcat campus. Not surprisingly then, there is little recorded about the star players of the past and their epic achievements. Anyone looking into the program’s history will soon discover that there’s simply no place to dig.

“It dies with me,” Coach Emery sadly lamented when I shared that reality with him.

No it doesn’t, Coach. Let’s preserve it right here. Let’s share it with the rest of the world.


Click here to purchase your copy

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently serves as a freelance reporter and sports columnist. He is the author/coauthor of three other books, CUT TO THE CHASE, KENTUCKY PASSION, and FROM THE RAFTERS OF RUPP. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Ranking the Road Venues

Ranking the Road Venues

The trip to Ole Miss was a bit disappointing, but it did finally complete my entire circuit of SEC Road Venues.

(Oxford, Ms.) – As a die-hard Kentucky Basketball fan, there’s not a better feeling in all the world than heading into the heart of enemy territory and snatching out a hard-earned victory. After all, when the Wildcats are on the road, it’s everybody’s Super Bowl—and there’s nothing more euphoric than spoiling an opponent’s weekend celebration.

When I started this media gig, one of my goals was to visit all the opposing SEC venues in both football and basketball. I’m still missing two football stadiums, but I’m happy to report that after my recent trip to Oxford, Mississippi, I have now officially completed the entire basketball circuit.

To celebrate, I thought I’d rank each of these venues according to the atmosphere around and within the arena on gameday. Now, this is my experience only. Yours may vastly differ. But it’s also important to note that I visited each of these places when Kentucky came to town, so you can bet your bottom dollar that the arenas were at their very loudest and rowdiest.

Coincidentally, it didn’t matter whether the Wildcats were nationally ranked or not, there always seemed to be a white-out, stripe-out, t-shirt giveaway, celebrity sighting, jersey retirement, or mascot rappelling out of the rafters adding to the chaos and frenzy of the afternoon or evening.

Let’s dive in, then, in reverse order—from least to most intimidating.


One of the most familiar trips for Cat fans to make is the quick jaunt to Nashville. The road to Music City now also ranks as the least intimidating. Don’t get me wrong, historic Memorial Gymnasium (capacity 14,316) can still get loud, but the magic of yesteryear is greatly overrated. The place is dated and worn, and the weird seating configuration—where the best seats (and the benches) are in the endzone—makes you feel like you’re watching an opera rather than a basketball game. Students still filed in early loaded for bear, but by the time the contest tipped off, half the seats were filled with blue. You’ll often hear more “Go Big Blue” chants in Nashville than you would in Rupp Arena.


Other than the “M-I-Z—Z-O-U” chants, nothing really stands out about Mizzou Arena (15,061). It’s surprisingly spacious, but the layout looks and feels like you’re playing in a converted airplane hangar. Everything screams “lukewarm” in the “Show-Me” state, including the fans. Trust me, there’s not much going on outside the stadium in the town of Columbia, either—making my sojourn here a likely one-and-done.

Ole Miss

Okay, it’s not really fair basing your ranking on a visit during an ice storm. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to me. The Pavilion at Ole Miss seats 9,500, but on my cold and frigid visit, it was only about a quarter full. The sleek, modern, state-or-the-art facility was still loud, however, so you’ll have to use your imagination on how crazy it might be on a normal Saturday night. Keep in mind that the town of Oxford is a gem of a place to visit. If Kentucky stinks it up, there’s still plenty of charm to make you smile.

Mississippi State

Reports of Starkville, Mississippi, being totally isolated and boring are greatly exaggerated. In my humble opinion, StarkVegas is only partially isolated and boring. That makes a game at Humphrey Coliseum (10,575) a fairly significant night on the town. Accordingly, the “Hump” can get pretty raucous, and victories against the Bulldogs are hard to come by if you fall behind early. I happened to visit during the Covid year, so I’m basing this ranking partially on what I’ve previously gleaned on television over the years.


Stegeman Coliseum (10,523) could be formidable when Georgia was competitive. The problem for Bulldog fans is that their basketball team seldom was. It’s a football school, and the enthusiasm for basketball dies down as soon as the home team goes down double digits—which happened quickly and frequently during the Tom Crean era. Do yourself a favor and spend your time at the bars and restaurants around campus instead. As bad as their basketball is, Athens, Georgia, might just be the best college town in America.


If you love Cajun food, then a trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has to be on your bucket list. Go during Mardi Gras, and you’ll certainly get more than your money’s worth. Show up at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (13,215) for a game versus the Tigers, however, and you’ll most likely be disappointed. It’s fairly easy to steal a victory here as most fans in attendance are too drunk to care. They’re mostly still thinking about past pigskin parties. Walk a few feet next door to Tiger Stadium and see where the real sport is played.

Texas A&M

It’s a haul to get from Lexington to College Station, so your trip to Texas A&M’s Reed Arena (12,989) better include some tourist sites along the way. The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library is right on campus and is well worth a visit. As far as the game environment is concerned, it’s predictably rowdy—especially with those Aggie Yell Leaders leading the charge. They’re a bit too weird for my liking, but they’ll boost the crowd to a fever pitch in no time at all.


Tuscaloosa is another venue where football rules the roost. But Coleman Coliseum (14,474) always seems stoked when the Wildcats come to town. It’s partially the size and the layout that makes it challenging to win. But Alabama always has the athletes to run with Kentucky. Their style of play gets the crowd into the game early. Fall behind here, and the mob mentality rules. Blowouts are as common as barbecue brisket and “Roll Tide” cheers.


The Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center (10,500) underwent a renovation back in 2016, so it’s not quite as harrowing as it was before. The Rowdy Reptiles are still there cheering their team on in force, but they’re no longer spilling out on to the court as before. The place is also open enough for the noise levels to dissipate. As Florida’s competitiveness has ratcheted down recently, so has the O’dome reputation for carnage.

South Carolina

Of all the visiting venues, this one was the darkest. And I don’t mean the lighting. Colonial Life Arena (18,000) reeked of evil the minute I stepped inside. Fans were loud, proud, and downright MEAN. Throw in Sandstorm and a heavy dose of Gamecock Jesus, and you’re in need of an exorcism when all is said and done. If Calipari’s getting ejected, you know it’s happening right here in Columbia. Be sure to take a shower before you leave town.


Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) is certainly big enough. In fact, the only reason it seats what it does is because they wanted it to be bigger than Rupp Arena. Unfortunately, the only time the Vols can consistently fill it up is when the Women’s basketball team plays here…and, of course, when Kentucky comes to town. I’ll admit, when the Wildcats come a calling, it can easily turn into a madhouse. Some blue always manages to get in, but that Rocky Top orange will dominate more times than not. Escape with a win, and you’ve earned your checkerboard.


A visit to Bud Walton Arena (19,368) is certainly a bucket list item. When the Wildcats are in town, it’s predictably loud, boisterous, and intimidating. Moreover, Arkansas fans have the championship pedigree to hang with Kentucky. They also boast of the best cheer in the SEC. “Calling the Hogs” always brings me goosebumps. And for that reason alone, Fayetteville, Arkansas, becomes a very difficult place to win.


Cozy and compact, Neville Arena (9,121) is as intimidating as it gets for Kentucky fans courageous enough to make the trip. It’s almost as if the place was built for one purpose only—for Auburn to beat the Wildcats. Charles Barkley cried when Kentucky beat him in the 1984 SEC tournament, and his statue out front screams “overcompensation.” The acoustics are A+ here, the decibel levels somehow ratcheted up to insane, ear-splitting levels. With Bruce Pearl sweating on the sidelines and the student body ringing the floor, the Loveliest Village on the Plains is the smallest—but also the toughest—place in the conference to get that road “W.”

But maybe not for long. Conference expansion is fast approaching. I wonder where Austin, Texas, and Norman, Oklahoma, will rank when they enter the conference? I can’t wait to make the trip and find out.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. This blog posting was originally submitted as a UK Basketball Column for Nolan Group Media publications. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Shake, Rattle, and Die

Shake, Rattle, and Die

It was bound to happen.

My first earthquake experience in southern California occurred yesterday in the wee morning hours. Two o’clock in the morning to be exact, as I was snuggly tucked in my own comfortable bed, dreaming peacefully of warm sunshine, palm trees, and languid sunset strolls on the sand.

As many of you know, I’ve spent a lot of time on those Santa Monica beaches these past two years. Odds were growing that The Big One would eventually hit during one of my periodic visits. I fully understood the risks, but I still always dreaded the exact moment when nature would finally snuff me out.

Fortunately for me, this wasn’t The Big One. In fact, this one barely rated a mention on the LA morning news. The rattling only registered 4.2 on the Richter scale with a couple of milder aftershocks thrown in for good measure. The epicenter, however, was disturbingly close to my location—just a scant 16 kilometers south of Malibu Beach.

As close as it was to my neighborhood, there were fortunately no injuries with this quake, no reports of significant damage, no breakout fires, and no resulting tsunami warnings.

For comparison sake, the 1994 Northridge Earthquake registered a magnitude of 6.7, killed 72 people and caused more than $20 billion in damage. If that weren’t scary enough, the strongest quake ever recorded in California history occurred on January 9, 1857, around Fort Tejon, just north of Los Angeles. That one measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and ruptured about 225 miles of real estate along the infamous San Andreas Fault.

Still, my own “minor” earthquake experience left me a bit skittish and unsettled. We’re all familiar with being jolted out of a sound slumber in the middle of the night. You know the feeling. It’s pitch black. You’re disoriented, and your brain refuses to function properly—as if stuck in limbo between the primal stages of semi consciousness and partial cognizance.

Initially, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. To be honest, I thought my dog, Bingo, was running zoomies underneath my bedframe. When it dawned on me that Bingo was still thousands of miles back in Kentucky, that was when I knew something bad was up.

By now, I’m finally thinking “EARTHQUAKE”! My initial reaction was to get out of bed and run outside. You see, I’m on the bottom floor of a five-story condo. The last thing I wanted was to be pancaked by the floors above and buried in the ensuing rubble. I’d gladly take my chances with flying debris and burning gas lines as I made my heroic escape.

(By the way, I’ve since learned that the experts strongly advise against making these types of instinctive moves. You’re much more likely to be killed or severely injured by a dislodged potted plant or errant wine bottle to the head. It’s best to stay put, to take cover under sturdy furniture, and find creative ways to protect your vital organs.)

Before I could scramble toward my front door exit, however, the shaking suddenly dissipated. Twenty seconds later, it was all quiet on the western front. My adrenaline was still pumping, though. Try as I might, there would be no sleep for me the rest of the night. I had somehow cheated death and felt obligated to tell all about how I miraculously escaped the clutches of the Grim Reaper.

Okay, I’ll admit I’m embellishing a bit. I never thought I would actually croak, nor did anybody I talked to the next morning. In fact, most of the patrons at the morning Farmer’s Market weren’t fazed in the least by the overnight rumblings. They’d gotten used to these occasional disruptions of their rhythmic lifestyles. They’d all become fatalistic, foreboding, and furtive in how they lived their lives.

I’m hoping I don’t ever become like them. As I’ve gotten a bit older, I find myself thinking a lot more about death. Not in a morbid way, mind you. But rather in the context of savoring life’s blessings. I’m telling you, life is short. Every part of it is worth savoring in some manner or other.

The reality is that we can’t cheat death. We’re all eventually going to die from something. Either cancer or a bad heart is going to get us. Or perhaps we’ll meet a grisly demise in an auto accident, airplane crash, or a steamy crime of passion. Maybe an earthquake or some sort of natural disaster will eventually spell our doom.

The truth is, we don’t know how we’ll eventually go, so you better live it up while you can. There’s nothing like a near-death experience—perceived or real—to help us appreciate our blessed and charmed lives here on earth. Regardless of circumstances, I want to encourage each and every one of you to savor the moment, to smell the flowers, and to cherish the moments together with friends and family.

Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today. Go ahead—travel the world if you’re so inclined. Order the lobster. Dance like no one cares (which—by the way—they don’t).

Live with no regrets. After all, you never know when THE BIG ONE might hit.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently serves as a freelance sports journalist covering the Kentucky Wildcats and Cincinnati Bengals. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Monday Night Horror

Monday Night Horror

Buffalo Bills’ players, coaches, and team officials kneeling in prayer at Paycor Stadium after abrupt and chilling ending to Monday Night Football (Photo Credit @BuffaloBills).

(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

In what was shaping up as a game for the ages, Bengals versus Bills on Monday Night Football abruptly ended on a chilling note. Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field after making what looked to be a routine tackle. After the collision, Hamlin—a second-year player out of Pittsburgh—popped back up on his feet but fell immediately to the turf a split second later.

The Buffalo Bills later confirmed that Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following the hit. His heartbeat was restored on the field, and he was transferred to UC Medical Center for further testing and treatment. He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.

Talk about scary. In one fell swoop, the overflowing record crowd at Paycor Stadium went from a night of anticipated merriment to several hours of abject horror.

For coaches, players, and their families, it had to be surreal. NFL players are a different breed of tough. They’re desensitized to broken bones, torn ligaments, and concussions as part of what they do. This injury, however, was different. Life or death is not part of the job description. You could see the shock, anguish, and concern etched on the faces of everyone on the sidelines. Imagine being Hamlin’s mom, escorted from her seat in the stands into the waiting ambulance taking her precious son to his unknown fate.

For media members in the press box, confusion reigned. We came to cover a football game matching two of the top teams in the league in their hunt for playoff seeding. We didn’t sign up for this. It’s difficult in that moment of chaos to process reliable truth with the rampant speculation around an unconfirmed medical prognosis. All of a sudden, everyone in the media room had a medical degree, or at least a relative working at the local hospital texting furiously with the latest breaking news on Hamlin’s condition.

As media members, we did the best we could in disseminating accurate information as the events were unfolding before us.

According to my notes, the tragic moment occurred at the 5:58 mark of the first quarter with the Bengals leading 7 – 3. I’ve watched a lot of professional football over the years. During that time, I’ve never seen a stretcher and ambulance summoned so quickly. Medical personnel furiously attended to Hamlin for about twenty minutes while the 67,000 or so looked on in stunned silence.

Watching players from both teams kneel jointly in prayer for a fallen comrade is always one of the most sobering sights in sports.

Five minutes after the ambulance pulled out, we all got the word that “the game was temporarily suspended until further notice.” Forty-five minutes later, after discussions with both teams, the NFL officially postponed the contest. During the next hour, people filed out of the stadium in a very orderly fashion, fully cognizant and accepting of the fact that no more football would be played that night.

In the tunnels underneath the stadium leading to the locker rooms, we witnessed players consoling each other and hugging their family members. Understandably, we had no access to any players, coaches, or administrative personnel.

“I don’t care who you are, you are not coming down this hallway,” said one Bengals’ official.

The evening was a stark reminder that as much as we love the NFL, the league embraces a brand of competitive violence that always leaves the door slightly ajar for these types of potential tragedies.

To be fair, however, this incident was indeed different and somewhat unique. I’m old enough to remember the Darryl Stingley paralysis in 1978, or Joe Theismann’s gruesome ankle injury on Monday Night Football in 1985. The Mike Utley, Ryan Shazier, and Tua Tagovailoa injuries are all nightmarish events. They’re all part of tragic sports moments everyone wishes never happened.

This was worse. Don’t get me wrong—career-ending injuries are awful. Life-altering paralysis is unfathomable. The long-term effects of CTE are becoming exposed as a living hell. But they simply don’t compare to the immediate acuteness of what we all experienced tonight.

Hamlin’s injury was akin to Hank Gathers collapsing and dying on the basketball court. Thirty-three years later, I still can’t get that image out of my mind.

I doubt if I’ll ever be able to dismiss this one either.

Dr. John Huang covers professional sports for Sports View America. This post first appeared on If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Meeting the Challenge

Meeting the Challenge

Bill Owen enjoys his last official day on the job at his beloved Rupp Arena (Dr. Michael Huang Photo).

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – If those Rupp Arena walls could talk, I’m sure they’d sound a lot like Bill Owen.

Owen, President and CEO of Lexington Center Corporation for twenty-two years, retired from his position as chief cook and bottle washer for one of Lexington’s most iconic and recognizable public-gathering facilities on December 31, 2022. A big Kentucky basketball fan, Owen appropriately spent his last official day on the job—at Rupp Arena—watching the Wildcats dismantle their in-state rival, the Louisville Cardinals.

“You can’t grow up in Lexington and not be a Wildcat fan,” Owen explained. “When I was in high school, I had a paper route, and [UK Athletics Director] Bernie Shively was one of my customers. Once a month, I would go to Memorial Coliseum and walk past Coach Adolph Rupp’s office, and Bernie Shively would pay me my $3.20.”

Growing up Blue

As such, Owen’s connection to Lexington and the University of Kentucky was solidified early on. Born in Gainesville, Georgia, Owen moved to Lexington when he was only two years old. His father served as head pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, so the preacher’s kid grew up in the Ashland Park area of the city, attending Cassidy Elementary, Morton Junior High, and Henry Clay High School.

Owen would naturally go on to attend the University of Kentucky. After graduating with a degree in history (class of ’73), he surprisingly found himself working in commercial real estate development and asset management. Six years learning from Wallace Wilkinson (before he became governor) and another six years working with the renowned Webb Brothers honed his business skills to a tee. That led directly to Owen taking on his Chief Administrative/Financial Officer role for Lexington Center Corporation in 1991. Nine years later, when Tom Minter retired, Owen took on the role of President and CEO.

Lexington Center Transformation

If you somehow hadn’t noticed, the Lexington Center recently underwent a transformative facelift under Owen’s dedicated watch. The project was unique—not a mere renovation, mind you, but rather a virtual complete replacement and restoration. Because most indoor sports venues traditionally have short shelf lives, you won’t find many comparable basketball arenas like Rupp—not only surviving, but still relevant and thriving forty-five years after initial construction.

“They blew up Charlotte Coliseum after only nineteen years,” Owen ruefully recounted. “I’ve got underwear that’s older than that.”

In today’s climate, working with a daunting $310 million budget is nothing to scoff at, and Owen made sure every penny of it was properly distributed and allocated in this latest rebuild. The result is a brand spanking new looking Lexington Center, a shining beacon of pride within the local civic, arts, and business communities. None of that would have been possible without Bill Owens spearheading the charge.

And what a fabulous charge it’s been. Big-time concerts, memorable sporting events, and world-renowned visitors are all part of Lexington Center Corporation’s rich and vibrant pedigree crafted during Owen’s sparkling tenure.

Rupp Arena

The parade of concerts featuring A-list celebrities visiting Rupp Arena is long and lengthy—everybody from Paul McCartney to Elton John to Tina Turner. Owen specifically remembers being wound tighter than a banjo string the time he booked Turner. When it came time for her sound check the day of the concert, the “queen of rock ‘n’ roll” was nowhere to be found. It turns out her limo driver had mistakenly taken her to Louisville instead of Lexington. Fortunately, with the help of a police escort and a slight curtain delay, the Rupp audience rocked for a full two and a half hours as Owen looked on in relief.

Then there was the Garth Brooks concert on Halloween weekend in 2014. If you remember, Brooks played four performances over two nights in front of 70,000 adoring fans. Over the years, Owen admits to becoming somewhat celebrity desensitized, but he remembers meeting Garth backstage and talking about their kids attending the same colleges.

“By gosh, here I am standing here talking to Garth Brooks, and it’s like I’m talking to another dad I just met at a tailgate,” said Owen, himself a proud father of three.

The very next night, however, it was back to reality as the University of Kentucky hosted Pikeville in a college basketball game. When it came to Rupp Arena, there was never a dull moment.

“What that building contributes to the community,” Owen gushed. “Obviously it’s the home of UK Basketball, which is its marquee and our most important relationship—but for the community and for the state of Kentucky, it’s so much more. You can’t underestimate its impact. Being able to stretch its life well beyond its peer group, that’s kind of special.”

As far as basketball games at Rupp, Tayshaun Prince’s five three-pointers to begin the game versus North Carolina stands out prominently in Owen’s mind. Hosting NCAA tournament games also provided quite a thrill. Coincidentally, Owen served as the official scorer’s table representative when Rick Pitino’s Louisville squad was upset by Texas A&M in 2007.

“Had Pitino not done that, we would have never heard of Billy Gillispie,” Owen quipped.

Convention Center

Not to be outdone, the Lexington Convention Center has had its share of grand moments and distinguished visitors as well. President George W. Bush came a calling for the Little League International Congress in 2010. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama also made visits to the Lexington Center during subsequent years.

“Growing up in Lexington, I think of our little burg of a community,” Owen reflected. “But yet, here we are hosting sitting and former presidents in our convention facilities. It’s something you think about. Our organization met that challenge. I guess that’s one of the things that’s significant with the Lexington Center’s staff. As an organization, we met every challenge. I can’t think of a thing that we were ill equipped to achieve. And now opening this really grand new facility, that’s kind of the zenith of it.”

Owen, with President George W. Bush, at the Little League International Congress held at the Lexington Convention Center in 2010.

Opera House

And finally, there’s the Opera House, one of the smallest theaters in the country that still offers its patrons a touring Broadway series. The city bought it through Lexington Center Corporation, renovated it, and gave it new life.

“I’m reminded of the line from The Wizard of Oz,” Owen said. “Dorothy, with tears in her eyes, looks at the Scarecrow and says, ‘I think I’ll miss you most of all.’ And they put that on a plaque on the entrance to the Opera House. And it’s next to a plaque where the original founders and board of directors of Lexington Center Corporation are listed. And to think that my name is up there with them. That’s very humbling—particularly for somebody who grew up here.”

Owen’s commemorative plaque at entrance to the Lexington Opera House. “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”

Disasters Looming

Lest you think Owen’s tenure was all sunshine and roses, think again. Two of the most significant world-wide crises occurred on his watch.

For Owen, 911 resulted in many sleepless nights. As a public assembly building manager, he spent countless hours poring over those endless reviews by Homeland Security. Think about it. That fateful Tuesday morning in 2001 forever changed the manner in which people gathered for concerts, conventions, and ballgames.

Covid-19 threw Owen an even bigger haymaker.

“March 12, 2020, for me was the day the earth stood still,” he recounted. “We’re in the second day, first game of the girls’ Sweet 16 tournament. We had just come off of three record-setting financial years. The arena is deeply under construction…and it all comes apart.”

In one fell swoop, Lexington Center went from one hundred twenty-six full-time employees to, at one point, only seventeen. Personnel decisions are always difficult. After all, it’s your work family. Time after time, Owen had to tell a lot of good friends that they couldn’t work there anymore. That was especially tough.

Tensions with UK

Here’s something I perceived was even tougher on Owen. Over the years, it’s been well documented that the city of Lexington and the University of Kentucky have engaged in a tireless (and often bitter) tug of war over ownership rights to Rupp Arena. Should a downtown location be the major community focus, or would an on-campus facility better serve the needs of the university? With so much at stake financially, it’s natural for friction to develop between the two negotiating factions, especially when they possess different end goals.

You know you’ve struck a nerve when you’re satirized in an editorial cartoon.

And yet, Owen kept his cool and remained philosophical through it all—the fickle fate of his beloved arena forever at the mercy of an unexpected regime change, a newly elected public official, or the ever-shifting whims of the state legislature.

“I’ve been married fifty years,” he told me. “UK has been in this building forty-six years. Our relationship with UK as our tenant is not unlike my relationship with my wife. It’s not like it’s been fifty years of wedded bliss and everything great. Nor has it been fifty years of combat and conflict. There’s been a share of both. But overall, both of us are a lot better off because of the relationship. And that’s kind of the way we are with UK. There are times when it’s been more of a business relationship. And other times it’s been more of a partnership.”

Who’ll Steer the Ship Now?

At age 71, Owen appears fully prepared for the upcoming retirement transition. In 2018, Lexington Center Corporation entered into a booking and management agreement with OVG, Oakview group. The California based private management company fully took over operations in October of 2021 and has since become the new Bill Owen—just as the old Bill Owen dutifully served out his term as Director of Construction in order to complete the final phases of the building project.

Understandably, Owen has a few reservations about an out-of-state corporate entity making future decisions regarding his community treasures.

“I’ve had to make my share of decisions,” Owen acknowledged. “In twenty-two years as CEO here, I’ve made an awful lot of decisions with my head. But I’ve made some with my heart too. Can you develop that if you don’t have a personal connection with the community? You probably can, but it’s easier to develop if you’ve got that connection.”

Grandpa Bill

On a personal level, I can’t see Bill Owen sitting on the couch watching Netflix and eating Bonbons. You never know, though. Everyone has their own way of dealing with major life changes.

Family Strong! Seated Left to Right: Owen, wife Debby, daughter Katie. Standing Left to Right: Daughter-in-law Sydney, son Grant, daughter Kristen.

“You can prepare for retirement every way but emotionally,” Owen said with a wry smile. “You can’t prepare emotionally until you experience it. I’ve worked steadily since I was fifteen. I got my last paycheck a week or so ago. I told my wife, ‘I’m not getting a paycheck anymore.’ That’s an adjustment.”

Owen’s wife, Debby, hates to fly, so large-scale travel most likely won’t be an adjustment problem in the years to come. Although they own some Florida property, Owen assures me he’s staying put in Lexington. He may do some consulting. A distillery docent or a horse farm tour guide aren’t out of the question, either. Most importantly, Owen just enjoys spending time with his three-year-old grandson, L.J.

“He’s taken over without firing a shot,” Owen joked. “Had I known they’d be so much fun, I would have had them first. It’s nice being close to family. I’m blessed with that.”

Owen, with grandson L.J., at a recent UK basketball game.

Thoughts Regarding Legacy

Sitting in the concourse of Rupp Arena, I asked Owen about leaving a legacy. What were his most significant professional accomplishments? How did he want others to remember him as he walked out the door?

“That’s a tough question,” he answered pensively. “I managed to be a part of keeping the torch lit. And improving all of our facilities—Rupp Arena, the Convention Center, the Opera House primarily—and extending our facilities’ contribution to the city, and to the community for a long while.”

Owen then whipped out his phone and showed me a picture of a brand-new street sign on the private driveway connecting Manchester Street to the Rupp Arena garage. The sign said “Bill Owen Way.”

“That was bestowed on me just two weeks ago,” he said. “I’m very proud of that. I’m very humbled by that.”

The newly dedicated Bill Owen Way leading up to Rupp Arena.

The Importance of Faith

Appropriately, I concluded my chat with Owen about a topic very near and dear to his heart—his Christian faith. Over time, I’ve interviewed a lot of successful individuals, and I’ve noticed one thing in particular. People of faith are somehow different. There’s a special aura surrounding them. That was certainly true of Owen. Through all his business successes, the son of a Baptist preacher always managed to keep spiritual things at the front of the line.

“I’ve grown up in the church,” he said. “I was active in leadership. I taught Sunday School. A personal faith and belief in God and reaching him through a Savior in Jesus Christ for me is an important part of my life. It always has been. The hope of something grander after this life is something I was taught, something I believed—and still believe.”

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.’”

Congratulations, Bill Owen, on your retirement.

A very hearty “thanks” to you and your talented and dedicated staff at Lexington Center Corporation for always meeting the challenge!

Dr. John Huang is a UK columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of He also covers the NFL and MLB for Sports View America. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you enjoy his writing, be sure to check out his new book, KENTUCKY PASSION.

Free Wheeler

Free Wheeler

Kentucky’s starting point guard, Sahvir Wheeler, has been a lightning rod for criticism (Dr. Michael Huang Photo).

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Most sports fans love an occasional juicy quarterback controversy. How about, then, a point guard controversy? Not since the days of Saul Smith has Kentucky Basketball experienced the vitriol and venom currently coming Sahvir Wheeler’s way.

Smith, if you remember, was the son of then UK coach Tubby Smith. Arguably, Saul had decent point-guard skills, but many passionate UK fans thought he just wasn’t a Kentucky caliber point guard. Not only did he take up a valuable slot on the roster, but his presence alone discouraged other more talented point guards from even considering the Wildcats.

The taunts and jeers directed toward Saul by opposing fans in hostile road venues were downright legendary (and not fit to print). That shouldn’t really surprise anyone. What really was surprising were the insults and epithets hurled at Saul by supposedly loyal UK fans.   

Wheeler, for those who haven’t guessed, is the current starting point guard for the No. 13-ranked Kentucky Wildcats. A transfer from Georgia—playing in his second season for Coach John Calipari—Wheeler led the Southeastern Conference in assists for the past two years in a row. Listed at 5-9 and 180 pounds, the senior from Houston, Texas, has the necessary skills to thrive at the collegiate level. His statistical accomplishments thus far speak for themselves.

I’m not saying the level of disgruntlement with Wheeler is approaching anything like it was with Smith during his playing days twenty years earlier. But with the advent of social media, the naysayers are louder, they’re just as insensitive, and everyone seems more vicious than ever.

The rumblings started last year on the trip to Notre Dame. Wheeler played 29 minutes but had as many turnovers (2) as he did assists in Kentucky’s disappointing 66 – 62 upset loss. Left wide open as the game wound down, Wheeler missed all five of his attempts from the field (0 – 2 from behind the arc). To add insult to injury, Irish players in the postgame interviews disclosed the game plan was to let Wheeler take open shots because they knew he couldn’t make them.

Ouch! That’s not good.

The discord with Wheeler escalated throughout the year and reached a peak during Kentucky’s shocking defeat to Saint Peter’s in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Wheeler and his teammates acted as if they had never played the game. Rushed shots, turnovers, and missed free throws (one a near air ball) with the game on the line led to one of the worst moments in the storied program’s history. Once again, the questions arose about whether Wheeler could hit open shots, make split-second decisions, and lead the team in crunch time.

Enter, this season, Cason Wallace. The 6-4 freshman guard—also from the Lone Star state—has superstar written all over him. Blessed with a maturity beyond his years, and the athletic size and skills to match, Wallace landed in Calipari’s starting lineup with both guns blazing. Although playing off the ball with Wheeler on the court, the silky-smooth Wallace’s shot-making (53% FG, 52% on 3-pointers), ball-handling, and defensive wizardry (22 steals) had people clamoring for him to immediately wrestle the point guard duties away from Wheeler.

Meanwhile, missed open shots (39% FG, 32% 3-pointers), bricked free throws (59%), out-of-control turnovers (15), and a lingering knee injury continued to plague Wheeler during the first nine games of this regular season. In the most recent contest versus Yale, he took more shots (14) than Wallace, Antonio Reeves, and CJ Fredrick—Kentucky’s designated dead-eye shooting trio—combined. Worst yet, Wheeler seemed constantly rushed, pounding the ball well into the shot clock and having to throw up prayer after prayer before time would ultimately expire. Through it all, he only registered one lonely assist.

Scroll through any social media timeline, website commentary, or message board posting, and I’ll guarantee you’ll find a post or two eviscerating Wheeler. To be honest, I’m somewhat embarrassed reading through the stench. He’s a college student for God’s sake. It’s hard enough suffering through daily Calipari tirades in practice. How difficult must it be to endure all this additional mindless drivel from the peanut gallery as well?

Well, it turns out that Sahvir Wheeler is a bigger man than those who are trying to tear him down. I asked him recently how he deals with the constant negativity surrounding his play and about the alleged point-guard controversy brewing among fans and media.

“I think that’s you guys,” he said disarmingly with a smile on his face. “That’s a lot of the media. I’ve never had any friction [with Wallace]. Even last year there were people who said there was friction with TyTy [Washington]. That’s never the case. When there’s a dead ball, I get it. Sometimes, when there’s a rebound, I just run, and Cason has it. I think we just naturally feed off each other that way. We have two aggressive, down-hill guards who defend on both ends.”

That’s truth speaking. Whenever I’m asked about whether I think Wheeler or Wallace should be the point guard, my answer is always, “Yes.” I think Kentucky needs both at peak efficiency to make a run at a ninth national title this year. Let’s face it, we all thought this team would be full of long, athletic, and skilled players running, dunking, and blocking opponents’ shots.  We also envisioned shot makers who could fill it up from the perimeter. The team needs Wheeler’s speed to generate all those transition buckets. They also need his passing skills getting the ball into the shooters’ hands.

The stagnant UK offense we’ve seen thus far isn’t entirely Wheeler’s fault. Neither is dribbling out the shot clock and then driving the lane out of desperation. That’s a coaching issue, and one that we all assume Calipari will iron out with Wheeler by March. Remember, Calipari is the Hall of Fame coach making nine million dollars a year. Berating Wheeler privately and banishing him to the bench should be left in his capable hands—not ours.

Plus, Wheeler is smart enough to ignore all the chatter. He’s got a personal Instagram account he uses to deal with NIL. But other than that, all your insults are like water off a duck’s back to him.

“If you guys are saying some great stuff, I have no idea,” he readily acknowledged. “If you guys are killing me, I have no idea. It’s been good. I love the fans. I know the fans who are at the games, they come up to me and show me love. It’s been pretty awesome so far this year.”

I’m not sure I believe Wheeler. After all, he’s only human. I’m sure some of the things he hears is bound to leak through and upset him—especially when it gets personal. But Wheeler’s response and attitude is exactly the resiliency I want in my point guard. The guy’s tough as nails. He has a huge heart. He realizes what it takes to be a winner. With a little more guidance from his coach, the negative chatter should readily subside.

“That’s part of it,” Wheeler willingly conceded. “If you’re not doing anything right, you won’t have anyone hating on you. It’s all part of it. I’ve learned to embrace it, enjoy it, to keep learning and keep on winning.”

Sounds like a guy who has his act together. I wouldn’t worry about him one iota. In the end, Sahvir Wheeler doesn’t care what you or I think. In the game of life, he doesn’t need any of us to set him free.

Dr. John Huang is a UK columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of He also covers the NFL and MLB for Sports View America. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you enjoy his writing, be sure to check out his new book, KENTUCKY PASSION.

The best take yet on NIL

<strong>The best take yet on NIL</strong>

The problem with NIL (paying college athletes for use of their name, image, and likeness) is that nobody feels comfortable speaking out against it. Seriously, who in their right mind begrudges student-athletes for seeking fair and legal compensation from the massive money-making machine that is the NCAA?

This is America, after all—the land of opportunity, free enterprise, and capitalism. If Will Levis and Oscar Tshiebwe can pull in a million bucks in endorsements alone while throwing touchdowns and grabbing rebounds, then more power to them.

As with every opportunity in life, however, there are pluses and minuses. There is no free lunch. Sure, Will and Oscar can rake in the cash, but if they become fat and happy during their college careers, is that necessarily good for the game?

I know a lot of people who think these current developments are horrible for the game. Sadly, they can’t really speak out coherently against NIL without sounding like old men shouting “get off my lawn” at the top of their lungs. Voicing any opposition to NIL in the current sports landscape makes you look jealous, self-absorbed, petty, and dated.

That is, until you hear someone like Keenan Burton expressing his views. Burton played wide receiver for the University of Kentucky from 2004 through 2007. By the time he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams of the NFL, the Louisville native ranked fourth in school history in receptions, second in receiving yards, and second in touchdowns. Trust me, the guy has credibility.

So, when Burton made an appearance on Alan Cutler’s new show (on WLXG ESPN Sports Radio 1300 and 92.5), he parlayed his personal thoughts into what Cutler termed as “radio gold”—the best NIL take he’s heard thus far.

“What I think is going on is that you have these kids who are not committed to a brand,” Burton explained. “They’re not committed to a school. They’re committed to themselves. Once that school doesn’t tell them what they think they are worth, then they’re not going to go there.”

Burton admits that he would have made a whole lot of money if NIL existed back in his day. But that’s not what drove him. In fact, the concept of NIL would have worked counter to everything he stood for. As a college athlete, Burton knew he needed to stay hungry and properly focused.

“What’s happened with the game right now—especially for a lot of kids—is that they’re totally focused on ‘what can be given to me’ as opposed to ‘what can I earn.’ And I think that’s an issue…It sucks, but it’s just that these kids are not motivated when it comes to the grind.”

That sounds like the age-old issue of ENTITLEMENT creeping into the conversation. Burton lamented that gone are the days when athletes would commit to the brand because they wanted to be at Kentucky to play ball.

“For a kid like me, who didn’t have any offers, but Kentucky came and it meant something to me to put the blue and white on—to put Kentucky on my chest. And I don’t see that in any of these kids. Not to say that they won’t play for the greater good of the university. But if they have to choose between themselves and the school, they’re always going to choose themselves. I could have done that. I could have chosen myself, but I didn’t. I chose the school. It may have hurt my future, but I don’t regret the decision that I made.”

There you have it. It’s not so much the idea that money is changing hands, but that the character, makeup, and fortitude within young people is changing for the worse right before our eyes. That’s the huge downside and worrisome aspect to all this NIL talk.

So, what can be done about it?

Unfortunately, the horse is out of the barn. We’re truly dealing with the Wild Wild West, and Kentucky has been painfully slow in getting in on the NIL action. According to Burton, they’re well behind the eight ball in the nuclear arms race to build up the necessary NIL money to stay competitive.

Kentucky has no football tradition. What’s stopping any school from approaching a Barion Brown or Dane Key and telling them they’re losing their quarterback next year and they have no backup to get them the ball? It’s only a matter of time before they transfer to another school which can offer them a boatload of NIL money.

“The days of guys that really care about the sport—that care about the brand, that care about whether or not they were a part of something special, that’s not already built—those days are over. It’s over. It’s what can you pay me.”

Strong words indeed, but Burton wasn’t finished piling on. He went on to imply that Kentucky’s misfortunes on the gridiron this year may be directly related to the NIL mindset. Remember early on when people scoffed at the notion of jealousy over other teammates’ NIL deals creating all this locker room dissension? No one’s laughing now as human nature rears its ugly head.

“I’m just looking at me, Stevie [Johnson], Andre’ [Woodson], Jacob [Tamme], Wesley [Woodyard], and some other guys making a quarter of a million to a million dollars a year. And I’m listening to an assistant coach who’s making two hundred and fifty thousand? And I’m supposed to listen to you? So, it goes past the game. It goes back to respect. It goes back to am I coachable? Am I teachable? Am I somebody who can be trained, developed? Because I’m not listening to you because I make more money than you make in a year. And I play for you. So, why would I listen to you?”

“I’m sure they’re dealing with that right now with Will Levis. I don’t know how much money he makes. I don’t know what he’s getting in endorsements right now with NIL and all that stuff. But I’m sure there are some guys in that locker room who are like, ‘Nah, nah, nah, no, uh-uh.’ And I hate it because [Levis] seems like such a good kid. It’s no fault of his.”

Burton explained, however, that if Andre’ Woodson made a million bucks while he, Johnson, Tamme, and Dicky Lyons Jr. split a million, there’d be hell to pay in the locker room.

“We’re catching all his passes,” Burton said. “You don’t want to think like that. Obviously when it comes to the grind, that’s what I care about the most. The money would be what it is. But when you’ve introduced it, you can’t unlearn it.”

Cutler ended the segment by asking what Burton would do if he were the commissioner of college football.

“I’d resign,” Burton answered.

Smart man. At the beginning of the process, everybody was clamoring for NIL. Now, people aren’t so sure. Be careful what you ask for. The sport we all love may be imploding—with Kentucky at the bottom of the ash heap.

Check out the entire interview here. The NIL talk begins around the 43:30 mark of the 11/18/2022 episode: The Alan Cutler Show | WLXG – Lexington, KY

Interestingly, here was my initial take on NIL:

Dr. John Huang is a UK columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of He also covers the NFL and MLB for Sports View America. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you enjoy his writing, be sure to check out his new book, KENTUCKY PASSION.