They Mad!

Nowadays, there’s a whole lot of anger out and about in the world of sports. Just look around. It seems like everybody is mad at somebody over something or other. I’m sure New Orleans Saints fans are mad, still smarting from that horrifically bad non-call that cost them a trip to the Super Bowl. Bill Belichick looks mad, despite the fact he just won another Super Bowl. Everybody, including Dick Vitale, is mad at the refs and the delays caused by instant replay. Yep, he’s mad. Well, I’m mad at Dickie V for loving so much on Duke. Anyway, you get my point—there’s ire, there’s fury, there’s moral outrage everywhere you turn.

Fortunately for Kentucky, PJ Washington got mad and his teammates responded with a come-from-behind 65-54 road victory over the Florida Gators. Despite the win, Kentucky fans—known for their undying love and passion for their Basketball Wildcats—will forever be mad at the national media over the lack of respect afforded their hardwood heroes. Their team wins big and nobody seems to notice. It’s a conspiracy! Why does everyone outside of BBN hate the Cats, you ask? Let me count the ways.

  1. This first one’s obvious—they hate us because they ain’t us. Eight national championships, 17 Final Fours, the all-time NCAA wins leader, and the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball are magnets for opponent enmity and venom. There’s nothing like a dose of Big Blue envy to stoke the fires of jealousy among the have-nots. “The history,” explained Seth Greenberg of ESPN’s GameDay crew. “You’ve got five different coaches with national championships here. It’s about the program. It’s the people’s program…We go all over the country. We never see anything like this. And that’s what makes Kentucky, Kentucky. Just the genuine passion and ownership people have in the program. You lose a game and everyone’s on suicide watch.”
  2. They hate us because of John Calipari. As much as he’s done for the players in his program and the communities he’s served, ignorant outsiders still view Kentucky’s Coach Cal as the Antichrist—a convicted cheater ruining the game’s purity through his exploitation of the one and done system. It doesn’t matter how many basketballs he autographs, how many hospitals he visits, or how many telethons he sponsors, negative perceptions about him simply will not die. “No one hates us,” Calipari quipped after the Florida win. “People do hate us? Do they hate me? They don’t hate me, do they? Why would they hate me? What have I done?”
  3. They hate us because we’re BBN. We’re everywhere—on social media, traveling to road venues like a swarm of blue locusts, and defending our program like an ambulance chasing attorney. It’s not like we’re intentionally haughty, or conceited, or wanting to get in your face. It’s just that we’re protective of our team and don’t want them talked about in a disparaging manner. You spout fake news about our program and we’re going to make you pay. “I just look at it as they’re all people whose opinions don’t matter really,” said freshman guard Tyler Herro when asked about the haters. “They’re just people who don’t like me or us for no reason really. I feel like a lot of people didn’t like Grayson Allen. They don’t like good white players. That’s how it is.”

Now that the Cats are on a roll, winners of eight straight and finally moving up in the polls, the torch and pitchfork crowd will undoubtedly show up in force—and THEY’LL BE MAD! Mad because Kentucky came and ruined their Super Bowl celebrations. Mad because swaggy Cal has his team primed for another scorched-earth march to Minneapolis. Mad because Kentucky is relevant again in the hunt for title number nine. Mad because Tyler Herro is white. Mad because Reid Travis is smart. Mad because Ashton Hagans stole their souls.

Why does everyone hate Kentucky? Freshman point guard Immanuel Quickley summed it up best. “Actually, I still don’t really know how much people hate us,” he said innocently. “I thought people loved us. But I guess people do hate us too. It comes with it. Good and bad. Any team you go out and play, you want to beat. But I guess especially Kentucky, with the rep that we have, everybody wants to come out and beat us. Just have to be ready to play every game.”

Hey BBN, forget about the haters. Let’s just get ready to play every game…and to win it all. Then we’ll see how really mad everyone else gets. #UnitedWeStand!

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.

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

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Bringing It!

I’ve always loved sports. The love affair began in the late-seventies when I was only eight years old. Back then, there was a TV show called Wide World of Sports. Some of you may even remember it. It was an iconic weekly sports anthology program that aired on the ABC network. It didn’t take long before host Jim McKay’s epic lead in on those memorable Saturday afternoon broadcasts became permanently ingrained in my youthful, sports-obsessed brain. “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport…the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition.”

Yep, my brain loved sports, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. Whether tossing a football or a frisbee, playing baseball or badminton, skating or swimming—I tried my hand at everything. The reality was that I just wasn’t very good at any of it. As much as I longed to be an All-Pro wide receiver in the NFL someday, prudence took over, and I became a dentist instead. Through all the subsequent years of drilling, filling, and billing, I never lost my hunger for the human drama of athletic competition.

So, after a lucrative career as an orthodontist, I’ve retired to the not-so-lucrative world of sports writing. You might say it’s a homecoming of sorts—combining my passion for writing with my love of the game. Thus far in my new career, I’ve already found myself in some ridiculously improbable situations. From the awesomeness of sitting courtside with Dickie V at the SEC Basketball tournament to the utter misery of the losing locker rooms after an NCAA Final Four, from interviewing NFL superstars at the peak of their profession to chatting with minor league dreamers just looking to eke out a decent living, from press conferences with Nick Saban and Mike Krzyzewski to being stared down by Marvin Lewis after another Bengals debacle, from the Greatest Spectacle in Racing of the Indy 500 to the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports at the Kentucky Derby—I’m soaking it all in as I literally live out my dream.

Being able to go behind the ropes—for free, no less—gives one not just a sense of privilege, but of a sacred responsibility to report back to those on the other side of the curtain. Access to these events and the athletes who participate in them instills a sense of intimacy between the reporter and the reported that’s hard to describe. Watching Rafa Nadal tipping his limo driver after a hard-fought tennis match or walking with Chip McDaniel’s parents as their son makes the cut in his professional golfing debut is poignantly surreal. Roy Williams crying, Rick Pitino lying, or John Calipari sighing peels back the often-fragile outer veneers of these larger-than-life personalities. We quickly learn that there’s always a human-interest story buried somewhere within every whitewashed tomb. Through it all, hopefully we’ll all eagerly agree that sports are much, much more than the scores or the stats posted at the end of a long-forgotten box score.

You’ll certainly be getting all those scores and stats, but through my stories, you’ll be getting something much more valuable. You see, I’m going to be taking you along for the ride—giving you a perspective couched in a half century of love and respect for the game. As a recent guest on a podcast with the legendary Kentucky sports guru Oscar Combs, it dawned on me that you can’t fake either history or experience as a sports fan. I’ve got both on my side, and I’m planning on sharing it with you in my musings and writings.

In this inaugural Sports View America print edition, I want to introduce you to a couple of talented writers who’ll be chiming in regularly with their unique viewpoints of the sporting world. Together, with the rest of our ever-growing staff, we’ll do our best to bring you intriguing stories full of original content and creativity. Check out Jeff Pendleton’s feature story this month on the whimsical nature of the ‘ABA’ or his thoughts on the iconic home of the Kentucky Basketball Wildcats—Rupp Arena. If you’re an auto racing fan, you’ll delight in Grant Sorrell’s detailed analysis of this year’s upcoming NASCAR events.

Whether Super Bowl or Citrus Bowl, World Series or Wimbledon, The Masters or Monday Night Football, I’ll be there “bringing it” for Sports View America—giving you a front row seat at every athletic venue, as well as diving into the heart, mind, and soul of the competitors within them. You’ll hear the roar of the crowd, feel the swish of the net, and taste every morsel of that tailgate brisket along the way. In the end, I guarantee—whether bird’s-eye view or bullseye through the heart—you’ll feel first-hand the hauntingly familiar thrill of victory and the brutally torturous agony of defeat. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. For everyone taking the time to read, thanks so much for hopping on board.

Dr. John Huang is the lead writer for Sports View America. This blog posting appeared in the inaugural edition of the outlet’s print publication. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

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

I Was Wrong!

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – It’s no secret. Every time a visiting blue-blooded basketball program rolls into town, a normally lifeless Rupp Arena leaps abruptly out of its winter hibernation. The usually docile, blue-haired, church service crowd suddenly morphs into Godzilla—swallowing the opposition up in tidal wave of decibel defying noise and pandemonium. Kansas never had a chance on Saturday, as the 8th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats—behind their army of Big Blue Faithful—subdued the visiting 9th-ranked Jayhawks 71-63 in a game critical towards confidence building, tournament seeding, and bragging rights.

Led by PJ Washington’s 20-point, 13-rebound effort, the Wildcats (16-3) rocked, chalked, and Jayhawked their way to their biggest victory of the year. Reid Travis kept the Cats in it early, doing all his damage down low to the tune of 18 points and 12 rebounds. Down 33-30 at the half, Kentucky’s dominating 2nd half comeback left the GameDay crew with jaws agape and put the rest of the basketball world on notice. The victory breaks a three-game losing streak to Kansas (16-4) and sets Kentucky back squarely into the conversation for a top NCAA tournament seed.

If confession is good for the soul, then I confess—I was wrong! At the beginning of this month, I thought this basketball team was finished, stuck in an endless cycle of sub-elite one and done talent incapable of competing with the Dukes, the Virginias, and the Tennessees of the world for a national crown. I hadn’t completely given up, but Mr. Negative was close to making other plans for the upcoming Ides of March. Shame on me!

I figured that in this always-evolving, current-day atmosphere of college basketball, championships are normally still won in March. That’s when the lights usually come on, the adrenaline surges, and teams that are fortuitously peaking at the right time dance their way to a coveted Final Four. Not this team, I surmised. Not even Coach Cal could work his magic on this entitled ragtag group interested solely in NBA stardom.

Just two short weeks ago, coming off a disappointing road loss and a couple of ho-hum victories over less than stellar competition at home, fans were ready to panic. Slow starts, poor shot selection, and inconsistent play plagued a team many expected to be better—much better.

A questioner from the peanut gallery (hehe) even asked Coach John Calipari if he were shifting into desperation mode. “What’s the date?” Coach Cal answered back incredulously. “Is it still in January? We’re good. We’re fine.”

Boy, was it fine. A surprisingly easy blowout victory over Georgia in Athens turned the tide of negativity. An ensuing resume-building road win over a ranked Auburn team got the bandwagon rolling again. A solid 21-point victory at home over a ranked Mississippi State team filled that bandwagon to capacity. And finally, a convincing GameDay victory over the perennially tough Kansas Jayhawks set everyone’s dream back squarely on a collision course for a rematch with the Duke Blue Devils.

What really happened during that two-week span? Young Calipari-coached teams don’t just all of a sudden flip the switch and start playing well. Remember, it’s a process. Where was that group of unempowered misfits who couldn’t shoot, who didn’t play defense, and who lost to Seton Hall?

Well, two things happened. First of all, the team was actually further along than many had originally thought. “The clock for our guys is sped up a little bit here,” said assistant coach Tony Barbee prior to the Mississippi State game. “Their learning curves have got to be faster…this team is starting to get it through the maturity, through the experience, through the different types of games and styles they’ve seen now.”

The second thing that happened was Ashton Hagans. The freshman point guard has become a recent tour-de-force—playing suffocating defense, making steals, driving to the hoop and leading the team like a seasoned floor general. “I don’t want to grade myself,” he said when I asked him for an honest self-evaluation. “I’ll let you all do that. I would say that I’m playing good. I just want to keep that going for my teammates. Try to play the role my coach has given me. Try to will my team to the win.”

I don’t know where this Kentucky Basketball team will end up in March. I do know that with their meteoric rise up the national rankings these past two weeks, many are now picking them to make it all the way to Minneapolis. If they do arrive in the promised land, you can point to the month of January as the point the Red Sea parted.

Ultimately, we’ll have to let history be the judge. A difficult road still lies ahead—a minefield of talented opposing teams, mean-spirited rival fans, and torturous enemy venues. One unfortunate slip up, and fickle Big Blue fans may once again threaten to bail. Not me. I’ve learned my lesson. I was wrong once before. I don’t plan on being wrong again. See you in March!

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.

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

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

Eating Scripture

When I was eight years old, my older sister Mary gave me a New Testament Bible for my birthday. I’d be lying if I told you I loved it. Heck, I was a kid—I would have much preferred a football for that matter. I’d also be lying if I told you I read that “Good News for Modern Man” Bible cover to cover. Nope—I tossed it away, together with all my worn-down number two pencils, comic books, jettisoned paper clips, and other “worthless” paraphernalia discarded in my moldy desk drawer.

Even as a teenager, I never got around to reading that Bible. I had added to my collection by then, “borrowing” a copy here or there from a random hotel room nightstand. Oh sure, I’d read an occasional passage—courtesy of the Gideons—but usually only as a last-minute assignment for my Sunday School class so I wouldn’t be totally embarrassed when called upon. Truth be told, I hated everything about Sunday School and church—having to get up early, slipping on polyester pants, and sitting in uncomfortable pews listening to a sermon I neither understood or even wanted to hear in the first place. I still get sleepy just thinking about it.

Reading Scripture was the last thing on my mind during college and dental school. After all, there were parties to attend and sports to watch, periodic tables to memorize and exams to pass. I didn’t have time to waste reading something so remotely abstract, or equally difficult to understand, or so downright boring. The Book of Leviticus? You gotta be kidding me!

It wasn’t until I entered the Army that I really developed an interest in God’s Word. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, there’s also nothing like being bored out of your mind while stationed overseas with no access to TV channels or the internet. In fact, back then there was NO internet. With limited resources at the post library, I finally got around to reading that Bible.

Boy, did I read it. I dived right in. Old Testament, New Testament—got through all 66 books in about 6 months. Along the way, I discovered something I thought was pretty neat. That Bible I had read wasn’t just a random collection of weird narratives, exotic poetry, and wise sayings—rather it was a beautifully crafted story—God’s personal story directed at me. It was a story chock full of intriguing plots, seriously flawed characters, and symbolic settings—often as titillating as any best-selling Sydney Sheldon novel. I was suddenly hooked, and I couldn’t let go.

The years since then have been a bit of a roller coaster ride. There’ve been seasons where I’ve been extremely disciplined and faithful in my reading and study. There have also been occasional periods of drought. Not just drought—but serious doubt about the truth and veracity of what I was reading. The eternal questions of why good people suffer, of the proliferation of evil, or the ever-present tension between truth and grace was simply too hard for me to reconcile between my earning a living, raising a family, and my relentless pursuit of idols. Could this tattered, leather bound manuscript really be the inerrant, divinely inspired Word of God? My mind said “no,” but my heart said, “maybe.”

So what’s happened since then? Have I finally seen the light, or have I gone the way of heretics past? I’m afraid you’ll have to wait to find out. Here’s a hint though—you see, I’m going to be leading an upcoming class where we’ll be talking about the Good Book. The name of the class will be called Eating Scripture—the premise being that we need to be as hungry for God’s Word as we are for a good bone-in rib-eye steak. Like my dog devouring his kibble, we need to develop a passion for gobbling up Scripture.

As a prerequisite, we’ll explore what the Bible is all about and how it came to be. We’ll touch on some of its recurrent themes and how best and if we should apply them to our personal lives. We’ll build upon each other’s experiences and—hopefully after our time together—we’ll all be a bit more knowledgeable and well-informed about Scripture in general. But most importantly, my hope and prayer is that through these sessions, you’ll develop a love, passion and HUNGER for reading God’s Word—that same passion that God has so divinely and preveniently placed on my heart.

I guess my secret’s out. I can’t wait to share more of it with you. Won’t you please join me?

Dr. John Huang is a former orthodontist, enjoying his time in retirement writing about sports and about other various and sundry aspects of life. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. He doesn’t really read Sydney Sheldon novels.

His “Eating Scripture” class will begin on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 at 6:30 pm in Fellowship Hall, Centenary United Methodist Church, 2800 Tates Creek Road, Lexington, KY 40502. It will run for seven consecutive Wednesdays through February 27. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend at their own risk. For more information, please visit Centenarylex.com for more details about Wednesday Night activities.

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

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

Partying Like Never Before

Kentucky’s upcoming appearance in the VRBO Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day is cause for celebration. By that, I’m not talking about a festive little soiree with cupcakes and ice cream. I’m talking a real CELEBRATION—an over the top blowout bash complete with champagne and chateaubriand. Because for the first time in my lifetime, the Wildcats are playing in a significant New Year’s Day Bowl game—looking for an elusive 10-win season against a big-time, brand name opponent.

I’ll admit it—I’m older than the burial ground dirt underneath Commonwealth Stadium. As far as UK Football is concerned, I’ve been following them since I was ten years old. That means I’ve been through 50 seasons, 13 bowl games, 9 head coaches, and more losses than I care to count. I saw my first game as a starry-eyed nine-year-old from the end zone bleachers at Stoll Field watching Joe Federspiel chase down opposing quarterbacks. Now I spend my time watching as a grizzled graybeard from the stratosphere of the Kroger Field press box. Through it all, I’ve seen headache and heartache, last-second defeats snatched from the jaws of victory, rotten execution, bad luck, bad calls, bone-headed penalties, and coaching blunders bordering on malpractice.

But that’s all water under the bridge because after five decades, the Wildcats are finally headed to Orlando, playing Penn State in the Citrus Bowl as a reward for one of the best seasons in school history. With that in mind, I thought it would be a perfect time to reflect—with the benefit of fifty years of hindsight—to share with readers three important things I’ve learned during my time following the Cats.

1) It really is about the Jimmies and Joes rather than Xs and Os. I don’t care if it’s the wide tackle six or the air raid. When you look at all of Kentucky’s successful seasons since the late sixties, the one common denominator is that they had star players during those winning runs—not only stars on the football field, but high character team leaders that commanded respect from their fellow teammates. You want to go 10-1 and be ranked in the top ten in ‘77? Then let Derrick Ramsey play quarterback. Is the Outback Bowl your destination in ‘99? Recruit Tim Couch and Craig Yeast. Upset the number one team in the land in ‘07? Jacob Tamme, Keenon Burton, Wesley Woodyard, and Andre’ Woodson are up for the task. Play in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day against the likes of Penn State in ‘19? Benny Snell, Jr. and Josh Allen will get you there. It’s no secret—great athletes make for successful programs. I’m not saying coaching doesn’t matter, but the ability to recruit star athletes is now what separates the wheat from the chaff. Having a Marks Stoops and a Vince Marrow continually being able to attract SEC-caliber talent to the Bluegrass is the most significant change I’ve witnessed in the program to date and bodes extremely well for the direction of UK’s football future.

2) Kentucky Football fans crave winning. The Wildcats are known as a basketball school, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care about football. In fact, it’s just the opposite—I’ve frequently sensed that the football fan base is every bit as passionate as their basketball brethren. It’s just that losing begets frustration, and frustration stifles enthusiasm. Even with all their two-win seasons, last-second meltdowns, and fumbles into futility, UK Football fans are resilient to a fault—they keep getting up even after getting punched in the face. Give those long-suffering fans that one magical season, and you’ll experience every bit of the excitement, exuberance, and energy usually reserved for a hardwood Final Four run. Just watch—you can bet BBN will descend into Central Florida this year, coating Mickey and Minnie with a blue mist the likes of which Orlando has yet to see.

3) It pays to be in the SEC. I’m not talking just sharing the bowl game payouts—but rather the prestige, power, and prominence of playing in the nation’s best conference. The Cats have come close to bolting on at least a few occasions, but selling your birthright for a chance at a couple of extra wins never made sense to me. Playing Big Boy Football is a privilege, and a tremendous recruiting advantage. To be the best, you must play the best. Trust me on this one—watching Kentucky being able to go up against the likes of Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida every single year is a lot more enjoyable than whipping up on Akron or Murray. It also keeps the program relevant, even in years when we stink. To say Kentucky is an SEC school—IT JUST MEANS MORE!

For BBN, it’s already been a heck of a season. A Citrus Bowl win over the Nittany Lions will just be icing on the cake. This team deserved it. Our fan base earned it. Now it’s time to party like never before! See you in Orlando.

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.

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

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

 

A Week Like No Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Could Happen to Anyone

“GOOD MORNING BIG BLUE NATION!” That’s the greeting reverberating across the airwaves of Louisville Talk Radio every weekday morning at precisely 8:06 am. The booming voice and unmistakable laugh belong to Michael Bennett, host of the increasingly popular talk show, Just the Tip, spotlighting University of Kentucky sports.

Gregarious by nature, Michael wants to be everybody’s best friend. He describes himself as “happy go lucky,” and everybody who has met the former UK Baseball pitcher turned orthopedic neuro-spinal sales distributor turned radio talk show host, would be quick to agree. His jocular and jesting on-air banter with show producer and co-host Shannon “The Dude” Grigsby never fails to bring a big smile to anybody tuning in. Honestly, I don’t know anybody around who doesn’t love “jolly” Michael Bennett.

Appearances can be deceiving, and Michael Bennett—like 16 million other adults in the U.S.—struggles with the deep, dark side of a debilitating illness known as depression. Michael’s demon is just a small part of the larger spectrum of mental illness disorders, which affects nearly 44 million adults in this country. That’s one in five people—burdened and battered by a health condition which—even in 2018—remains so ridiculously stigmatized that many are fearful to admit they have it.

“This is something I didn’t want to admit to my family,” Michael recently acknowledged to me. “My wife knew about it, but my boys didn’t know about it. My dad didn’t know about it. I’m very close to my sister, and she didn’t know about it. To be able to say something about it to someone like you was a reopening—a rebirth.”

Michael Bennett and I have two things in common. The first is our love for University of Kentucky sports. We initially met at a football press conference at the beginning of the 2017 season, which triggered a series of serendipitous events and conversations that ultimately resulted in the unveiling of this very personal story.

The second commonality in our lives is that we’ve both been faced with the immense challenges of dealing with depression—Michael, directly as a victim—and me, through the suffering of my spouse (https://huangswhinings.com/2017/04/11/in-sickness-and-in-health) and another close personal friend.

As we’re sitting here and talking on a beautiful late-summer afternoon, looking down from the bleachers onto Kroger Field, I still can’t believe that someone so outwardly jovial could be depressed. And yet, I can fully believe it because depression is as sneaky as an onside kick in the gut. It lulls you into a state of denial, stiff-arms you into apathy or acceptance, and shames you to where you feel vulnerably exposed.

“I noticed depression coming in after my mom passed away,” Michael relayed to me as his voice began cracking. “I lost her 18 years ago, and I still get teary-eyed talking about her. I’m very close with my family. I’m especially close with my mom and dad. That’s when it hit. When my mom passed away, I disappeared for about four or five years.”

Disappearing meant being exhausted and tired all the time. It meant wanting to sleep all the time. It meant being numb day in and day out. Michael described it like being handcuffed to a wheelchair and not being able to do anything about it. It was debilitating. When friends asked if he wanted to talk, that just drove him further into seclusion. The saddest part of all was missing a lot of what went on in his children’s lives during those formative years.

“Looking back, I didn’t know anything was wrong at the time,” Michael admitted. “I just knew I didn’t want to be around anybody. I didn’t know anything about depression. I wasn’t even aware that I suffered and struggled with any sort of anxiety. The people that knew me knew that something wasn’t right. My wife knew it especially. I didn’t want to be around anybody.”

Michael’s wife, Patricia, is a real gem. People such as she—spouses turned caregivers, who must live with the daily emotional turmoil of watching their loved ones spiral into such depths of despair—deserve sainthood status. Balancing a career while raising a family isn’t easy. Doing it alone, while dealing with the flux and uncertainty of Michael’s depression, would drive many to the brink.

“I don’t know how someone like you or my wife overcomes living with a severely depressed spouse,” Michael said. “I’ve told her numerous times in the past, ‘Why do you stay with me?’ I don’t get it. I would have been long gone. I credit her a lot for getting us where we are. If it weren’t for my wife, my family, my boys…when I finally admitted it to them—they kind of understand now what I’m going through. They helped me out quite a bit.”

Depressive disorders have wrecked many a marriage, with the spouse bearing the brunt of the illness’s vicious attack. On the worst of days, you tell yourself that this is not what you signed up for—that you deserve to have a happy life with a spouse who is “normal.” Just seeing other couples out for a simple evening together triggers painful thoughts of what once was or could have been.

“Marriage is a promise, through sickness and in health,” Patricia clarified. “Everyone in the family who is affected by mental illness gets to a crossroads. And you stand at that crossroads, and you must make a decision that you’re going to go down one side or the other. It would have been so easy to just walk away from Michael. But then you realize all the people that would be undone by that.”

Patricia’s ever-present faith and tenacious character would not let her simply walk away. She continually lived on pins and needles, not knowing whether the next twenty-four hours would be good or bad, depending on how Michael was feeling that day. Not knowing how his illness would play out over the long haul also ratcheted up anxiety levels within her own mind. “I literally had to take it one step at a time,” she recalled. “I tried to take each day as a gift. I tried to find something good about every day. Sometimes I had to work really hard to find it. I took the boys to baseball games, was involved with the kids in school, and volunteered all the time. Looking back, that was my salvation—to get a chance to be around other caring adults and to see our kids flourish. That was the happiness that got me through.”

Finally, a breaking point came. Something woke Michael up. “Some people may roll their eyes,” Michael hesitantly confessed. “But it was the power of God, the power of my church, and the power of prayer. I firmly believe it was the power of my faith.” Michael Bennett can tell you exactly where he was the day he decided to go see a therapist. He knows the exact time. When he made that phone call, he immediately felt like a fifty-thousand-pound burden had been lifted off of him.

“This was about twelve to thirteen years ago,” he continued. “I credit a lady who was a good friend of mine. Her son and my son were very close friends. She started talking to me about how I was suffering from depression just as she had. Here was someone I trusted who had suffered just as I was suffering. She gave me the name and number of her personal therapist. That did it for me.”

Michael went through the usual series of prescribed counseling sessions. For the first year, he would just go in and sit and not say anything. He wondered what in the world he was doing there. Then, his natural frugalness kicked in. He started worrying that he was wasting money by just sitting there like a zombie during these sessions. He told himself, “Don’t waste money—talk.” Initially, his counselor would just ask him questions and wait him out for answers. She didn’t force Michael to talk. She said she was there to help him whenever he wanted her help.

Slowly but surely, the counselor started suggesting more things, and Michael started opening up. She suggested going to a psychiatrist who could prescribe medication. Michael agreed, and the medication immediately helped. He was on medication for five or six years. He tried to discontinue the pills for a time but found out he needed to go back on them just a few months later. That happens a lot in depression treatment. There’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of recurring frustrations when dealing with unmapped areas of the human mind.

Successful treatment of depression requires a team-oriented approach. If not a village, at least an outpost or two. Michael has had two fantastic therapists. He thinks his endocrinologist walks on water. It took a while, but he thinks he’s also found the psychiatrist who fits him the best—someone with more of a holistic treatment approach. “Medication can be quite helpful, but why not supplement it with other methods as well?” he pointed out. “Just because you’re dealing with a mental illness, doesn’t mean you neglect the other physical aspects of your overall health.”

So why open up now about all of this? Why share his story when he knows the stigma associated with telling it could possibly alter the way people choose to interact with him, or worse—sabotage his career? Two recent encounters shaped his decision.

The first one was with Cameron Mills, the former UK Basketball star and current radio media personality. Earlier this spring, Cameron appeared on Michael’s show as an impromptu guest.

“For a while I’ve thought about talking about my daily struggles on the air,” Michael explained. “For some reason, Cameron and I just kind of clicked. This happened to be the day that Anthony Bourdain, the famous chef, committed suicide. I was going to bring it up as one of my topics, and Cameron beat me to the punch. Cameron told me that it was something we don’t talk enough about, and he confessed that he himself had struggled with opioids while trying to recover from a back injury. When he admitted that on the air. I’m like ‘wow, this is the perfect time.’ I told him right then that I struggle with anxiety and depression—anxiety all my life and depression for the last 18 years. Then we kind of both looked at each other and said, ‘OK we need to talk about this.’ So that day we didn’t hardly talk about sports at all. That was a breaking point for me. Wow, I really admitted it. I admitted it on air…I admitted something that’s very private. And now I’m learning that it can’t be private. So many people are out there struggling that maybe as you said—and it hit me hard when you said it—we can do some good. I thank Cameron Mills for that.”

The second encounter involved overcoming the shame and embarrassment of admitting his struggles directly with people at work. Understand that Michael and Shannon, his co-host, have become really good friends through the show. “I’m leaving the studio after doing the show one day, and I told Shannon that you wanted to talk to me,” Michael said. “I confessed to Shannon that I suffered from anxiety and depression, and that you wanted to interview me about it. Please understand that I was hesitant to tell anybody at work about this because of how it may affect my job. I know in the past that depression has cost me parts of my career.”

Shannon—as he is apt to do a lot—said something that resonated with Michael. He said there may actually be a lot of sympathizers out there, and that getting the story out might just help a lot more of those people who are struggling. “Shannon’s a smart guy,” Michael continued. “He thought this could serve as a turning point for me if I shared it in the right way. He recommended that I do it. He said, ‘Michael, you’ve been successful in life. You’ve made money. It’s hard to believe someone of your stature—you have a beautiful home, you have a beautiful family—could be depressed. How is that? People need to know.”

To many of his listeners, Michael Bennett does appear to have it all. “I’ll tell you right now, I could give it all away if I could to be with my mom again,” he sadly acknowledged.

Commonwealth Stadium holds some incredible memories for Michael Bennett. He points to the corner where he and his family have sat for the past thirty-five years. He tells me he frequently comes here to relax more than anywhere else on campus. It’s a beautiful day, and we’re sitting in this incredible football stadium…and yet there are days where Michael would rather be sitting in his bedroom at home doing nothing. Sometimes, it still takes everything he has just to go outside. That’s the part of depression and mental illness people still can’t understand. It’s brutal, it’s sad, and it really could happen to anyone.

Although things are better now for Michael, depression never completely disappears. It’s always lurking, relentless, ruthless and sneaky, prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Michael still struggles whenever his boys, now both in college, go back to school. “I have struggled with thoughts of suicide,” Michael sheepishly confessed. “That may be a little too much for you there, but I have. I haven’t gone out and sought to do it. I’ve gone through programs within Baptist Hospital in Louisville that have helped me out quite a bit. But I still get depressed. I still go through periods of anxiety—like when it’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I have to prepare for tomorrow’s show.”

So, what’s up next for Michael Bennett? He’s excited for what the future holds. A lot has transpired in the last eighteen months alone. Last spring, Michael was sitting at the Hooters on Johns Pass, in Madeira Beach, Florida—five minutes from his family home. He’d been in medical sales his entire professional career, and he’d been thinking of what else he could do for the rest of his life. For twenty-five years, he’d been rather successful, calling on orthopedic and neural surgeons, and selling spinal implants. Then depression kicked in, he stopped working, his company wasn’t happy, and he lost his job.

Out of the blue, Michael decided he wanted to host a radio show. Three months later, he’s in contact with people like Mike Pratt setting the wheels in motion. Kyle Macy then signs on for a stint as co-host, and the show is off and running. Next thing you know, he’s got Shannon “The Dude” for his producer and sidekick, as fans tune in and ratings take flight.

“That’s my dream coming true—being able to be a part of a university that I love—that’s near and dear to my heart,” Michael gushed. “Helping it out as much as I can. Promoting this university and the good people surrounding this university. That’s a dream come true.”

For anyone affected by the ravages of depressive disorders, that’s music to our ears. Godspeed, “jolly” Michael Bennett. May your road to recovery be filled with many more carefree days, bowl wins, and national championships.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and a volunteer teacher for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). He currently serves as a sports columnist for Nolan Media Group. If you enjoy his writing, you can reach him at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

If you, or someone you know, is suffering from depression and mental illness, please don’t hesitate to seek immediate help. Don’t know where to start? Check out your local NAMI chapter https://www.nami.org/ for resources and contacts.