The Most Interesting UK Basketball Player In The World

The Most Interesting UK Basketball Player In The World

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Just last week, I participated on a media videoconference featuring the newest addition to the UK basketball roster. Savhir Wheeler, a transfer from Georgia who led the SEC in assists last season, knocked it out of the park with all the media members in attendance. The 5’10” guard was engaging, articulate, and knowledgeable when responding to the various reporter queries. In a virtual world fraught with one-sentence answers and predictably canned responses, I left the twenty-minute session thoroughly impressed.

That got me to thinking: what are some individual qualities that make for an interesting player interview? Or more specifically, who were the players that are considered the best interviews ever in the history of Kentucky Basketball?

Those are certainly tough questions to answer, especially for a media novice like me. I’ve only been at it for the past five or six years, so my knowledge is circumspect and my experience a bit limited. Plus, who’s to say what makes for a great interview?

I can say that during my short time on the beat, the sophisticated eloquence of a Reid Travis or the infectious personality of a Tyrese Maxey certainly stand out. But to even come up with a partially inclusive list, I knew I’d have to dive deeply into the history of the program.

Who better to do that than Alan Cutler and Larry Vaught? The two media stalwarts are older than dirt, but they’re also uniquely gifted at doing what they do best—drawing meaningful responses and getting great answers from those being interviewed. They operated, however, under two somewhat different parameters.

For Cutler—the iconic, longtime LEX18 anchor and reporter—honesty and trust were at the top of his list. He learned early on that trust between media and players worked both ways. He had to first gain the players’ trust before he could even attempt to penetrate their outer shell. Only afterwards would they then start telling him things that they wouldn’t have otherwise revealed.

Rex Chapman has been the most honest interview at UK for me,” Alan admitted. “He’s not afraid to be vulnerable and tell the world how he really feels, even if it hurts.”

That same type of honesty and vulnerability could be found in two other Cutler favorites, both cut from the same cloth.

Ed Davender—I would purposely ask him tough questions because he could handle it,” Cutler explained.  “We both come from Brooklyn. I don’t think anyone else at UK called me Cutler to my face. It still hurts anytime I hear his name. He should have played in the NBA forever.

“As for Jamal Mashburn, he was tough—a strong New Yorker. He told me in his first interview that being a successful businessman was his road after basketball. BINGO!”

Larry Vaught—a seven-time winner of the Kentucky Sportswriter of the Year award—had a slightly different ranking system. For him, relatability and spontaneity were the attributes he most valued.

Willie Cauley-Stein once told Larry that he could not go to the NBA because he would have to figure out where to eat and pay his bills on his own if he did. Likewise, the lovable Melvin Turpin once revealed to Larry going into Rupp Arena that if he messed up in game, Coach Hall was going to make him run stairs during the game—and he believed it.

Those types of answers are always endearing—and anticipating the unexpected is something every reporter relishes. If only the players of today would more often speak their minds.

“With Dirk Minniefield, you never knew what he would say,” Vaught volunteered. “And with DeMarcus Cousins—enough said—every quote was golden.”

Like Cutler, honesty and openness are also commendable traits in Vaught’s book.

Derek Anderson was never afraid to be blunt and honest,” Vaught emphasized. “And Derrick Miller always called me Mr. Vaught, and even in tough times was always very honest and willing to talk with me. Roger Harden could always analyze a game and never made excuses.”

For both Cutler and Vaught, just being friendly, gregarious, and affable were slam-dunk qualities that often made a big difference. For Cutler, players like Reggie Hanson and Sean Woods were the life of the party. Reggie’s “million-dollar smile” and Sean’s playful sense of humor made for many hilarious soundbites and memorable stand-ups.

For Vaught, an engaging Rick Robey (like after the scolding he gave Jim Master when he showed up late for Robey’s summer camp at Centre College) or a charming Richie Farmer with his eastern Kentucky twang were always good for a story AND A LAUGH.

To be honest, both Alan and Larry admitted that this list could go on and on—and that inevitably, there would be many others that would rightfully deserve to be included. They’re both correct in that because in this world of media interviews, relationships are ultimately what matters. Develop a good relationship with any player, and you’ll eventually get a story worth reporting.

Unfortunately, good relationships take time. It’s next to impossible—in this one-and-done era—to get to know someone in the few short months they’re on campus. Throw in the limited access imposed by the pandemic and the UK Athletics powers that be, and it’s no wonder that everyone starts reporting on the exact same drivel.

I’m not giving up, though. Somewhere out there, there’s an Antoine Walker, a Ramel Bradley, or a Lukasz Obrzut just waiting to break the internet. Like Jack “Goose” Givens or Kenny “Sky” Walker, it’s just a matter of them sticking around long enough for us to get to know them better…or for legendary journalistic pros like Alan Cutler or Larry Vaught to finally coax it out of them.

Who’s your vote for the most interesting UK Basketball player in the world?

Hey Kentucky!

Hey Kentucky!

Derby week brings in a lot of out-of-state visitors. Here’s how to entertain and impress—even if you know nothing about horses, bourbon, or burgoo.

I’ve lived in the commonwealth for over the past half a century. Although not technically a native, I thought I knew enough about everything within our borders to qualify as an honorary Kentucky Colonel. Unfortunately, a first-time visit to the bluegrass state by my dear cousin, Linda, exposed me as a counterfeit fraud.

The truth is, I didn’t know nearly enough about the Kentucky I claim to love. When I tried to come up with a list of things that truly defined my home state, all I could muster was a weak and pathetic “we’re usually good at basketball.” I realized right then that to be a true Kentucky ambassador, I needed to repent and recommit.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s not too late for you to learn. Here are five easy steps to capturing visitor hearts.

Shower them with gifts immediately upon arrival

Making Linda feel welcome started me back on the road to redemption. Thank God for my sister-in-law Michelle. She came to the rescue and assembled a gift basket worthy of Daniel Boone.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Ale-8-One, and Ruth Hunt Candies got us all in the proper mood. Mix in a bag of Mingua Beef Jerky, throw in a couple of cellophane-wrapped Moon Pies, and you’ve got the makings of a distinctive bluegrass bounty.

Alan Cutler bonus tip: Anchor the basket with an autographed copy of Cut To The Chase!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GTJ2DSC

Dive right in with an afternoon at Keeneland

Fiancee Chris, Cousin Linda, Sister-in-law Michelle, and Brad Pitt in front of iconic Keeneland clock

What I really wanted to give Linda, however, was a true Kentucky experience. If it’s April or October, what better way to spread the love than by spending an afternoon at Keeneland? I’m not usually one for big crowds, loud drunks, or losing all my cash, but you have to admit that watching those regal animals run against such a stunning central Kentucky backdrop was like money in the bank. Linda, and her fiancée Chris, didn’t strike gold on the afternoon, but I’m sure they felt forever enriched by the totally novel encounter.

Tom Leach bonus tip: Bet on the burgoo. It’s a sure-fire winner every time.

A horse farm adventure gets you up close and personal

The horse escapades continued the very next morning with a tour of Mill Ridge Farm. Around eight hundred acres just a stone’s throw from Keeneland, Mill Ridge is a photographer’s paradise. I’ve never been on a horse farm tour. Have you? For California city folk used to urban blight and traffic jams, the gentle rolling hills, painted fences, and thoroughbreds galore provided for a fairytale oasis. More than once, Linda said to Chris, “Let’s get married here.”

Michael Bennett bonus tip: Need a jolt of testosterone? Be sure to meet Stud Stallion Oscar Performance just outside the breeding shed.

One of these studs gets to “perform” three times a day

Finding the perfect distillery tour

John, Chris, and Michael–Three stooges in search of the perfect Kentucky bourbon

What’s more Kentucky than bourbon, since 95% of the world’s bourbon is made right here in our own backyard? For a quick and convenient bourbon experience, we took Linda and Chris to the historic James E. Pepper Distillery on Manchester Street. How they resurrected the iconic brand is a story worth listening to. Of course if you’re there to drink bourbon, the free sample tastings will not disappoint.

Larry Vaught bonus tip: A ginormous slice of Goodfellows Pizza next door will quickly cleanse the white lightning burn from your soiled palate.

Linda and Chris. Nice appetizer. What’s for dinner?

The open road beckons

I’ve traveled the world over, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen natural beauty like you see in central Kentucky. The natives take it for granted. The kaleidoscope of colors with the dogwoods, crabapples, and redbuds in bloom—set against the dense greenery of the sloping hills and sleepy hollers—can’t help but flood your senses with the beauty of God’s creation. Pack a picnic lunch and just go wherever your heart leads you. If you have to set your GPS, a quick detour to Midway, an afternoon at Shakertown, or a leisurely stroll through Berea might be just what the doctor ordered.

A leisurely drive through horse country is as idyllic as you can get

Sister-in-law Michelle (former Ms. Wolfe County) bonus tip: Red River Gorge is the most beautiful place on earth. Miguel’s Pizza offers a little slice of heaven.

It’s always about the food

Foodies like us live to eat, and the perfect Kentucky experience has to satisfy the stomach. Kentucky is much more than just KFC. Whether it’s a Kentucky hot brown at Ramsey’s, a prime center-cut Anthony Davis NY strip at Malones, or spoon bread at Berea’s Boone Tavern, a bluegrass culinary extravaganza must leave you nearly crippled and comatose. Forget the calorie count and crash diets. You only live once, right?

Michael Huang bonus tip: Why leave home at all when Huang’s hometown kitchen offers the best in boiled crawfish, tomahawk steaks, and Chinese hot pots.

John, Michael, Michelle, Gabriel, Linda, Chris, and our 93-year-old family patriarch, Grandpa Pete enjoying a Kentucky crawfish boil in Huang’s hometown kitchen

When I asked Linda what she enjoyed most about her bluegrass visit, her answer was a bit surprising. “Just being with family,” she said.

That spoke volumes to me, and it’s part of my closing bonus tip: It doesn’t matter if you’re on the Champs-Elysees, sipping champagne and dining on escargot, if you don’t have someone meaningful to share it with, it probably won’t be memorable.

Our true and lasting memories begin and end with those we love. Everything else is just Facebook fluff. So, wherever you are on this particular Derby week, just give your loved ones a great big hug, throw some brats on the grill, and savor again the lasting memories of your Old Kentucky Home.

And one more thing…Kentucky is now very good at Volleyball!

My Most Embarrassing Easter Moment

My Most Embarrassing Easter Moment

When I was in elementary school, my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Lyons, held a class activity during Holy Week that traumatized me for life. She called each of us, individually, to the front of the room and asked us an apparently simple—but loaded—question: What does Easter mean to you?

Yikes! For an immigrant kid from Taiwan who had rarely been to church, the prospect of making a fool of myself discussing spiritual issues in front of my American peers nearly had me wetting my pants.

I remember sitting agonizingly at my desk waiting my turn. As the students with names beginning with letters at the front of the alphabet took their spot at the podium, I listened intently for something I could plagiarize. However, statements like “Jesus died for us” and “the blood of the lamb” made absolutely no sense to me. It’s as if they were speaking a completely foreign language.

Having no way to fake it, I hesitatingly made my way up toward the teacher’s desk before my classmates’ laser-focused eyes. To make matters worse, Mrs. Lyons prefaced my impending humiliation by enthusiastically exclaiming, “I can’t wait to hear John’s answer. He’s from China. Class, listen up. This should be quite interesting.”

After all these years, just replaying this horrific unfolding horror scene still sends shivers up my spine. Much of it remains repressed for my personal self-preservation, but I do remember mumbling something about hunting for eggs and getting gifts from a rabbit.

Immediately afterward, the incredulous looks on my classmates’ faces and the guffaws that followed my “answer from hell” shamed me to no end. Red-faced and nearly in tears, I was exposed on the spot as a heathen among believers—a true alien from another land who knew nothing about Jesus, Chevrolet, or the American way. Mrs. Lyons politely dismissed me, but I knew my reputation was toast.

Well, over a half a century later, I’m now looking to redeem myself.

In the midst of another Holy Week, it’s time for all of us to ponder the question: What does Easter mean to us?

Surprisingly, it’s still a difficult question to answer. Even after years of studying the Bible, listening to countless sermons, and examining church doctrine, I’m not sure I could give a better response than my eight-year-old self caught in the crossfire.

Ask me to explain the significance of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, and you’ll probably get an incoherent word salad of religious gobbledygook. Quiz me about what goes on at a Seder meal or Tenebrae services, and my primitive answers would no doubt make you cringe—just like Mrs. Lyons when I described my encounter with the Easter Bunny.

Here’s the one thing, however, I now know about Easter that I didn’t know back then. On this coming Easter Sunday—and every upcoming Easter Sunday—believers like myself will acknowledge and commemorate the moment that Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Savior, rose from the grave and conquered death.

That’s important to know. In fact, as Christians, that may be THE most important thing to acknowledge about our faith. Everything else about Jesus—his miracles, his ministry, his morality—they all become secondary by comparison. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

It’s only through the resurrection—through the conquering of death—that our faith has significance. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

Because Jesus conquered death, those of us who believe have now been given eternal life. That magnanimous act is still hard for me to comprehend. There’s a lot about grace and truth that goes into the explanation behind it. We can talk about that some more at another time. But given my cultural background, I’ve eagerly accepted that precious gift. I hope you have too.

Remember, regardless of your pedigree or heritage, that same gift of salvation is free to all. I promise it’s the best gift you’ll ever receive from anybody—rabbit or otherwise.

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.     

A Slanty-Eyed Man Responds to Dr. Seuss Controversy

A Slanty-Eyed Man Responds to Dr. Seuss Controversy

First it was Mr. Potato Head. Now it’s Dr. Seuss. We’re definitely living in some crazy times.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, two of my childhood icons have been in the news lately. OK, maybe Mr. Potato Head doesn’t qualify for iconic status, so we’ll save his predicament for another time. But Dr. Seuss under attack? C’mon Man!

Like many of you, I grew up learning to read with Dr. Seuss. To this day, I can still recite parts of The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham by rote. What’s more, I can also picture all the vivid illustrations that accompanied the catchy text jumping at me off the printed page. Just thinking right now about all those warm and fuzzy childhood narratives puts me immediately in my happy place.

So, imagine my surprise when I heard accusations that people were branding Dr. Seuss (whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel) as a racist and banning some of his books due to racist imagery. My immediate reaction was disbelief—almost a “you gotta be kidding me” type of denial akin to being told that the Kentucky Wildcats would be 8 – 15 this year.

I hastily started investigating, and sure enough, I discovered that what I had heard was true. The company that oversees the publishing of his works confirmed that six books—If I Ran the Zoo, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra! Scrambled Eggs and Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer—would never again see the light of day because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

Now I was really curious. Inquiring minds want to know, right? What in the world was hurtful and wrong about my beloved Dr. Seuss?

My curiosity was piqued even greater when word leaked out that there were demeaning Asian stereotypes peppered throughout these publications. Now you really had me going. This was personal. You talk about a man on a commando mission. I had to get to the bottom of this.

You see, I’m an Asian American—a full-blooded Chinese dude who has lived in the United States for over half a century. I was born in Taiwan and moved with my family to America at the age of four as my parents went in search of the American dream. Growing up in Kentucky in the 60s and 70s, there simply weren’t many Asian folks around. In fact, I seem to recall being only one of two “Orientals” in my elementary school and, for a time, I was the only “Chinaman” in my junior high school class.

You know how mean kids can be. They subjected me to every racial taunt and limerick known to mankind. My classmates pulled their eyes back and bucked their teeth out ad nauseum. They spewed nonsense in a sing-song manner as if I understood what they were saying. I was called “Chink” and “Gook” as I went to the bathroom and lined up for lunch in the school cafeteria. I even had to lay low on Pearl Harbor Day—even though I wasn’t Japanese. You get the picture.

So what was Dr. Seuss saying about Asian people that was so horrific that his books would be taken off the shelf?

Upon further review, I discovered that it was indeed his character portrayals that came under critical fire. The Mulberry Street book evidently included a drawing of a Chinese man with slits for eyes. It also contained a supposed controversial illustration of an Asian man holding chopsticks and a bowl of rice whom the text called “A Chinese man Who eats with sticks.” If I Ran the Zoo describes Asian characters as “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell.”

Excuse me? I’ve been subjected to far worse cultural derision in my neighborhood potlucks. Besides, all those descriptive examples are kind of true for me. My sloping eyes do often give me a different slant on things, I love eating rice, and I’m a whiz at using chopsticks. In fact, I’m damn proud of my Asian heritage. I’m not offended at all by diverse appearances or customs, nor do I think that you should be either. I bet you can’t spell G-U-A-N-G-X-I.

Look, I get it. Stereotypes are often insulting and demeaning. At the very least, they can lead to some pretty awkward moments. I can’t tell you how many times well-meaning adult acquaintances have unintentionally said something culturally insensitive or hurtful right before my eyes. Left unchallenged, these inadvertent racial gaffes can grow into something far more insidious. The recent increase in violent acts against Asian Americans (or anybody for that matter) is disturbing to me. As part of God’s master creation, we should never face discrimination based on the color of our skin. Red or yellow, black or white, we are all precious in his sight. Those who think otherwise need to be educated and/or held accountable.

But let’s not all go ballistic over a few descriptive words penned at a time when there was far less scrutiny about such things. Let’s not overreact for the sake of twenty-first century political correctness. Geisel’s writing was a product of a different time. Plus, there’s no compelling proof that the guy was racist at all. Just the opposite by many accounts. For good measure, his family and the company that preserves his work have acknowledged the errors, they’ve apologized, and they’ve agreed to take these books in question out of circulation.

So what’s the big deal? It pains me to see the good doctor under attack. There’s no need to skewer the brilliant man’s legacy. You have to think that those who are doing so are just piling on.

Now I hear that many school districts have also decided to no longer promote Dr. Seuss’s books on Read Across America Day. On Monday, President Joe Biden also refrained from mentioning Dr. Seuss in his Read Across America Day proclamation.

That’s disappointing to hear. Because in this world we live in, nobody’s perfect. You have to take the good with the bad. And with all that Dr. Seuss has done—gifting us all those formative hours spent learning to read, broadening all our imaginations in his colorful make-believe world, and leaving us all with those impressionable flashback memories of Horten Hears a Who, or The Lorax, or How The Grinch Stole Christmas—his good FAR supersedes any hint of bad that troublemakers are trying to stir up.

From my slanty-eyed perspective, Dr. Seuss’s stories will always remain Pulitzer worthy.

And here’s a final piece of world-wide truth for citizens around the globe. Chopsticks work better than forks.

It Is Well with My Soul

It Is Well with My Soul

When my church offered a spiritual wellness checkup at the beginning of the year, I was intrigued. Similar to what an annual physical checkup does for your body, the wellness check was designed to assess the health of your inner spirit and relationship with God. Although I didn’t quite know exactly what that entailed, I had just listened to my pastor preach about the importance of a wholesome and healthy soul. With the pandemic and all, I was a bit confused about where my mind, body, or SOUL was taking me. So like a sheep being led to slaughter, I eagerly signed up.

No sooner had I received my email confirmation, I began having serious second doubts about the decision. Did I really want to bare my most intimate fears and failures in front of a church staff member that I barely knew? Would they ask me my underwear size? Would the interview be secretly recorded and somehow used against me?

Curiosity got the best of me, and I proceeded to fill out all the online forms. I was given a list of several of the church staff who would be conducting the wellness interviews and was asked to choose two of the ones I felt most comfortable in meeting with. Knowing the baggage I would be bringing, I surmised that I needed the heavy artillery right from the get-go—so I asked for a session with the big cheese himself, Pastor James Williams. I was given two options—in-person or Zoom. I chose the Zoom—I figured it provided an easier escape route if needed.

I was then told to expect a list of upcoming questions designed to facilitate the meeting with Pastor James. Immediately, my mind flashed to queries such as “Have you ever peed in a pool?” or “When was the last time you cheated on an exam?” or “How often do to you pretend to pick up after your pet?” I kid you not. I truly expected tough, cutting questions designed to measure every angle of my integrity, character, and moral fiber.

Fortunately for me, none of the survey questions were quite that pointed. Instead, I was asked to reflect on seven general statements designed to evoke a torrent of personal thought and self-evaluation.

  1. Describe how you feel close or connected to God?
  2. What gives your life meaning and purpose?
  3. How are you experiencing (or not) spiritual growth or witnessing God’s power?
  4. What areas of your life feel most vulnerable, uneasy, or wounded? When things are difficult, how do you find comfort and/or hope?
  5. What are your rhythms of work and rest? How is your physical health affecting your spiritual health?
  6. How are joy and celebration a part of your life?
  7. How do you hope to grow spiritually in the coming year?

Wow! My first impression was Fuhgeddaboudit. No way was I going to be able to answer these—much less talk about it in front of others. But, as I put in some actual thought to developing coherent responses, I realized there was a distinct method to all this madness.

There were no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. They weren’t designed to embarrass you or put you on the spot. They were simply conversation starters—a way for Pastor James and I to connect and shoot the breeze, as comfortably as if we were talking about the current trials and tribulations of UK Basketball.

I’m not going to go into the details of our conversation together. That’s between the two of us. I will say that the session lasted over an hour—probably a bit longer than we both had anticipated. We also hit on some intensely emotional topics geared toward hope and healing. I’ll daresay that a couple of suggestions Pastor James cast my way were semi-revelatory and outlandishly comforting—worth the price of admission alone.

I’ll confess, I’ve got a long way to go on my spiritual walk. It seems I keep making the same mistakes. Often times, it’s one step forward and two steps back. It’s terribly frustrating. I keep telling myself that I should know better by now.

But maybe that’s part of God’s master plan. He doesn’t expect you to be perfect all the time. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us. That’s his grace at work…and I’ve learned to be much more grateful for it as the years roll by.

Would I recommend a wellness checkup for everyone? Absolutely! If you’re still hesitant about signing up, I’d encourage you to at least explore those seven spiritual questions listed above. Better yet—especially if you’re already a part of Centenary United Methodist Church—you can sign up for the actual wellness appointment at www.lexchurch.com.

It’ll be the best investment you can make for your mind, body, and soul. I promise—you won’t even have to reveal your underwear size.

It’s Time To Dress It Up

It’s Time To Dress It Up

If the suit makes the man, then Coach John Calipari hasn’t been much of a man this year.

I’ll readily admit that I’m no fashionista. Although my hat game was strong during the ponytail era, I’ve never ever owned Armani suits or donned Gucci shoes. I do believe, however, in dressing for success.

That’s why, as an orthodontist, I usually attended patient consultations in a coat and tie. And why, in the early years of my new media gig covering sporting events, I frequently showed up in a three-piece suit. I wanted to represent my practice—and subsequently the media outlets for whom I wrote—in the most professional light possible in front of my patients, peers, and business clients.

I realize that coaching basketball games is different from working in a clinic, bank, or on Wall Street—but the optics of representing your company, your organization, or your university in a professional manner remain exactly the same. How you look matters. If you appear at company sponsored events unkempt and sloppily dressed, that’s a poor reflection of the people you represent.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that for the past few games, Coach John Calipari has been casually attired in a sport coat while ranting on the sidelines. Mind you, this was an actual upgrade from the track suit he wore during much of the preconference slate. To the chagrin of many in BBN, both blazer and windbreaker are no substitute for the regal pin-striped suit and tie we were all accustomed to seeing in years past.

I’m not saying the team struggles this year are directly related to the missing suit and tie on the sidelines, but as long as we’re all piling on, I thought I’d add fuel to the file.

Granted, Calipari is just a basketball coach, but he’s also the most famous face associated with the University of Kentucky. Just as you wouldn’t expect the leader of the free world to conduct business in sweats and tennis shoes, you shouldn’t expect the coach in charge of the program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball to be sloppily attired either—especially since his image is so prominently displayed across countless media platforms.

I’ve always perceived Coach Cal to be more image conscious than he lets on. Frankly, I was surprised he chucked his customary and formal game-time threads. Was it just a matter of a Covid-19 blip, or had he finally abandoned style for comfort in his old age? How does he feel coaches should be dressed on the sidelines?

“I would tell you whatever makes them comfortable,” he answered when I asked him directly. “No, I won’t do any suit and tie. But I needed to feel like I was coaching again. And I was kind of feeling like this was all pick-up basketball. I wanted to feel like I was coaching. That’s why I did it. I didn’t do it for any other reason. But I would tell any coach, ‘whatever makes you comfortable.’ Coaches dress different. If they’re comfortable in a sweat suit or a t-shirt or a pullover shirt, be comfortable. I’m just more comfortable with a sport coat and a pair of jeans—which is what I’ve been wearing.”

For all I care, Calipari can wear a bathrobe and bunny slippers during his time away from the university. But when he’s on company time—i.e. coaching during games—he needs to be attired professionally. I’d prefer the sartorial splendor of a Jay Wright or Jerry Stackhouse every single night, but I guess I can live with the sport coat and slacks. Just please don’t regress to Huggy Bear sweats or Mike Brey shorts.

On the Women’s Basketball side, I have no complaints. Former head coach Matthew Mitchell was certainly GQ worthy while strolling the sidelines. Current head coach Kyra Elzy continues the tradition by knocking it out of the park. Just like Coach Cal, however, when it comes down to what to wear during games, the first-year head coach feels as if it’s to each their own.

“As far as how people are dressed, it’s up to each individual,” Elzy explained. “To coach good, you want to feel good. You just wear what you’re comfortable with…I’m not dressing any different than I normally dress. Thank you for everybody watching.”

And therein lies the key. Remember, everybody’s watching. You’re a professional, a mentor to future generations, and a representative of the state university. Act like one. Be like one. Look like one. It matters more than you think.

Ding, Dong, the Ponytail’s Gone!

Ding, Dong, the Ponytail’s Gone!

There are a ton of subjects I thought about discussing to kick off the new year. After all, 2020 was a year like no other. Politics, pandemonium, and a pandemic all setting the stage for a perfect storm of philosophical whining.

So, after much deliberation, I’ve decided to talk about something everybody has an opinion on…OUR HAIR. Don’t scoff. Regardless of your current lot in life, the reality is that a bad hair day can make you or break you. Just ask James Dean, Farrah Fawcett, or Bo Derek. Good hair launched their Hollywood careers.

The amount of money spent every year on hair conditioning products is mind boggling. Brittle hair, dry hair, frizzy hair, greasy hair—enough potential problems to give everyone gray hairs. And that’s just the minor stuff. In the state of Kentucky, hair restoration is big business. We hate bald spots and receding hairlines as much as we abhor hair-brained basketball.

For the last five years, I’ve worn my hair in an unconventional ponytail. To commemorate the end of a hair-raising 2020, I’m ringing in 2021 with a brand-new look. I’m sending the ponytail packing.

Here are five good (or not so good reasons) why I did it.

1. Breaking into the UK Media market

The University of Kentucky media beat is ridiculously crowded. When I first started out back in 2014, it was also fairly homogeneous. I watched sports-obsessed stalwarts like Oscar Combs, Alan Cutler, and Larry Vaught peppering Coach John Calipari with all sorts of insightful questions. I knew I had to stand out in some way to get noticed. Being Asian helped. Being an Asian guy with a ponytail would surely turn some heads. It worked. Oscar invited me onto his podcast Episode 60 – Conversations with Oscar Combs – John Huang – OscarCombs.com , and we’ve become close friends ever since. I ended up writing a book with Cutler https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GTJ2DSC . And Coach Cal has called me out on several occasions for asking all sorts of weird questions. Mission accomplished.

2. Being the hippie I always wanted to be

I always thought ponytails were cool. Think Brad Pitt, or Roger Federer, or John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. If those guys walk into a restaurant like they own the place, they’ll be treated to the best seat in the house. Unfortunately, that never worked for me. With Covid-19 raging all around us, who spends time even eating in restaurants? Not me. Not cool. No need for ponytail.

3. I’m not your daddy 

There was a time when people thought my brother, Michael, and I looked alike. Granted, he still looks thirty years old. Me—not so much. That hair pulled back off my forehead aged me twenty years. When one of Michael’s friends asked me if I was his dad, that was the final straw. Scissors, please.

4. Boys don’t have ponytails

“Girls have ponytails. Boys don’t have ponytails,” said my five-year-old nephew Gabriel. In my case, the kid was right. The apparent gender ambiguity—especially behind a COVID-19 face covering—was what broke the camel’s back. It’s always a bit disturbing being called “Mam” by the Kroger checkout cashier. I immediately made a beeline for the Great Clips next door—and twenty minutes later, the ponytail was history.

5. Time heals a lot of wounds

Since my mom died in 2014, getting haircuts has always been a bit of a spiritual experience for me. I wrote about it in a previous blog post https://huangswhinings.com/2016/04/26/mah-mah/ . You see, my mom cut my hair throughout my entire life. I think one of the reasons I grew my hair long was because I missed having her cut it. I still miss my mom…but it’s time to move on.

The old has gone, the new has come.

Happy New Year, everyone!

(Man, I’m so good looking.)

When it Comes to Getting the Coronavirus Vaccine, Should Kentucky Basketball Players Cut Line?

When it Comes to Getting the Coronavirus Vaccine, Should Kentucky Basketball Players Cut Line?

The one thing we all agree on as a cultured society is that there’s a special place in Hell awaiting those who cut in line. We’ve all experienced it. You’re queued up at Kroger, or at the airport check-in counter, or ready to board a Disney World ride after a two-hour wait…and some goober with a FastPass suddenly bolts right in front of you.

Whether it’s a bathroom line—and you REALLY need to go—or you’re stuck in construction traffic and some idiot on a cellphone zips past you for a last-minute merge, alarms go off in our head warning us that we’ve somehow just been screwed.

Your blood pressure goes up. You stare at the perpetrators with disdain. You question when the cosmic laws of karma will finally kick in and teach these elitist snobs a lesson they’ll never forget.

This immutable law of “waiting your turn in line” was exactly why Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari was so quick to clarify his statements the other day regarding his players getting preferential treatment during the Covid crisis.

“The safest place for all these athletes is on our campuses,” Calipari said initially when asked about the possibility of a shutdown to the basketball season. “Most of us have hospitals, whether they’re in our town or somewhere close by, if something does happen. And they move to the front of the line and get the best care.

That’s not breaking news. We’re all accepting of the fact that UK basketball players are treated by a different standard than the rest of us commoners. They’re coddled, pampered, and often worshipped like deities. First-class charter flights, five-star hotels, and the best medical care that money can buy. It’s all part of the scholarship package enticing them to come.

That’s not all. If they come to UK, these players will never have to wait for a table at a restaurant either. The occasional comped meal, front-row concert tickets, and all the swag you care to muster are simply par for the course—universally accepted perks for being able to dribble and shoot (although with this team, the jury is still out on whether they can indeed dribble or shoot).

So why, then, did Calipari feel the need for clarification?

“I want to be very clear,” he tweeted out shortly after he made his initial statement. “Our guys are not jumping to the front of the line if we have any health issues. I could have said it better. What I mean is these kids are better off here because of the access to our hospitals being close by and because we can monitor them as a staff.”

Say what? We all know UK basketball players go to the front of the line whenever they have health issues. So why did Calipari say they didn’t? Does he really want us to believe that Terrence Clarke had to call for an appointment when he recently tweaked his ankle? Would Olivier Sarr really have to take a number and sit in a crowded waiting room if his tooth abscessed? Of course not. When it comes to health care issues, they’re shuttled immediately to the front of the line.

With the news of the first shipments of the Coronavirus vaccine being distributed as we speak, a more pertinent medical issue popped into my head. I wondered where the current UK basketball players will rate when it comes to getting inoculated. Will they jump to the front of the line? Perhaps a better question is should they jump to the front of the line.

The answer depends on who they’re jumping over. If it’s over the first responders, other critical medical personnel, or the elderly, then the answer is a resounding “no way!” It’s crucial that our society protect those on the front lines and those who are most vulnerable. Calipari is right on point here. To jump in front of those folks would be a blatant travesty of justice. If that happens, I’ll be the first to scream in protest.

Perhaps a more difficult question is should the UK players cut in front of someone like you or me?

I’m a relatively healthy guy, but I am approaching the age of vulnerability. I’m a cancer survivor, my blood pressure and sugar levels are higher than I want them to be, and I do my share of long-distance travel on airplanes. In other words, I could really benefit from getting vaccinated, and getting vaccinated early on in the process.

But I’m also exactly the kind of guy who’ll probably get bumped by the UK players. Because in the high-stakes world of college sports, they’re deemed more valuable than an “average-Joe” like me. So they’ll most likely get their shot in the arm first.

Surprisingly, I’m OK with that. I understand that life’s not fair. It never has been, and I’ve come to accept some of life’s inequalities—especially when UK basketball players are involved. I’m even guilty of hero worship myself. When I ran my dental practice, UK players always got preferential treatment if they came to see me. It wasn’t always the right thing to do. It certainly wasn’t fair to my other patients. But it’s part of human nature. I loved my Wildcats and was always eager to show my appreciation for the pride and joy they brought me.

And I think that’s a key to this decision-making process of when the players should get vaccinated. Kentucky Basketball is important to a heck of a lot of people in the Commonwealth. It creates a lot of happiness in a year where joy is hard to find. It provides a much-needed jolt of serotonin to our dopamine deprived brains. We need the players to stay healthy so that the season can be played out. It’s important to the overall economy, but even more critical to our individual psyches.

John Calipari quips that he hasn’t been wrong since 1978. Well, he’s wrong here. His players are going to cut line when it comes to the vaccine. They already do it when it comes to other medical and social issues. In our sports-obsessed culture, they’re treated as VIPs. Most of us are fine with their preferential treatment.

Just don’t insult our intelligence by denying that it happens. 

Why I Do Stupid Things

Why I Do Stupid Things

I just returned from a grueling road trip to Columbia, Missouri. It’s the home of the University of Missouri Tigers, and my Kentucky Wildcats were matched up with them on Saturday afternoon at the midpoint of this year’s 10-game SEC gauntlet of a schedule. For the record, Kentucky laid an egg and got pummeled—but that’s not the point of this post. Or maybe it is?

The question I’ve been asked time and time again is why would a guy like me continuously invest the time and energy to follow a football team that is known for ripping your heart out year after year in the most perplexing manner possible?

Let me try to explain because I think that’s a fair question.

You see, it’s a 14-hour round trip to Columbia. The drive through the flatlands of the Midwest is ridiculously boring. The traffic around St. Louis can be stifling and the weather this time of the year is already cold and dreary. Missouri isn’t a big foodie destination either. I’m not a big fan of those cracker-crust pizzas, and the steamed dumplings in Columbia weren’t worth the bamboo chopsticks my carryout order came with. Wouldn’t my weekends be better spent working towards world peace or finding the cure for cancer?

To add to my misery, I made the trip alone. A good buddy and colleague bailed out at the last possible minute. I get that—things come up. Plus, don’t forget there’s still a pandemic going on, gas and hotels still cost money, and media outlets are more selective than ever now in who goes where.

Speaking of which, I was the only UK media person—outside of the normal UK staff and broadcasting network—to cover the game. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. It’s a whole different media world out there than it was just a few short years ago. No Herald-Leader, no Courier-Journal, no Cats Pause, no local TV stations—no nothing.

Only me. Wouldn’t it have been better to drown my sorrows from the comfort of my basement couch? Was I nuts for going?

I don’t think so…and here’s why.

It’s simple. I’m a fan. I’m no different than most of you. For die-hard Kentucky fans, it’s always about the journey rather than the destination. Sure I want Kentucky to win just as much as the next guy (probably more), but after a half century of heartbreak, I’ve finally realized that it’s not the won-loss record that ultimately tickles my fancy.

Nope, it’s the realization that—as a sports fan—regardless of the misery I may be currently experiencing, that tantalizing jolt of euphoria could be just around the corner. That game winning kick, that season-saving interception, or that once-in-a-lifetime comeback victory could be just a road trip away. AND I DON’T WANT TO MISS IT!

So I go—to out of the way places like Columbia the week before Halloween, through the backwoods of Mississippi to hamlets like Starkville, and Auburn, and Fayetteville—all because I want to witness with my own eyes the next great iconic moment in Kentucky Football history.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not equating momentous football victories with the moon landing. However, we all know that—as fans—there are certain moments that will always be a part of our hearts forever. Following the Cats to the end of the earth is part of our DNA. It’s an integral part of who we are, a perfunctory rite of passage, our unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness within our Big Blue Nation.

Because despite our travails, every once in a blue moon, we stumble upon those magical moments of heaven on earth. Like in Gainesville two years ago when Kentucky broke that 31-game losing streak against the Gators. Or like in Knoxville the weekend before last when the Cats dismantled Rocky Top and ended that ignominious 36-year losing streak.

So I’ll pack my bags, download some podcasts, and hunker down for some monotonous travel, greasy fast food, overpriced hotels, and bad football.

I know there’ll be plenty more duds like Missouri lurking in the future. But hidden among them will be those memorable gems you simply can’t miss. It’s the price you have to pay.

Trust me—it’s absolutely worth it.