By Dr. John Huang
I fully expected Johnny Juzang to play a crucial role in Kentucky Basketball’s quest for Championship No. 9. Sometime during the postseason, I just knew that Johnny would come in and rescue the team by hitting that big 3-pointer that would send Kentucky into the next round.
I was holding onto this column until that special moment happened. Of course, with the cancellation of March Madness, that opportunity sadly disappeared. Rather than letting my thoughts about Johnny languish, I thought now was as good a time as any to share them with you.
Calipari: “Johnny was not afraid.”
I asked Kentucky Coach John Calipari during today’s media video conference about his impression of Johnny’s season.
“The one thing I want to tell you about Johnny—he was not afraid,” Coach Cal said. “Never was that an issue. But in this game that you play, most of it is conquering yourself first. As the season went on—each week that went by—he learned and got better and better…All that stuff that you learn through that freshman year is why guys come their sophomore year—you look at it and say, “Wow!”
Why do I root so hard for Johnny Juzang?
Why do I root so hard for Johnny Juzang? It’s probably a bit more complicated than you might think. As a passionate, life-long Kentucky Basketball fan, I cheer for everyone who wears the blue and white. But I pull extra hard for the Wildcats’ 6’6 sharpshooting guard from Los Angeles, California.
As the first Asian American player to play for the University of Kentucky, Johnny and I have a special kinship. Of course, I’m Asian too, and I’m living out part of my childhood dream through his current exploits. But that’s not unique to me. After all, what ten-year-old boy growing up in the Commonwealth doesn’t want to be John Wall, or Anthony Davis, or Tyrese Maxey?
But what is unique to me is this. Being a Chinese kid growing up in Lexington in the late 60s resulted in some difficult challenges. First of all, there simply weren’t that many Asian kids in elementary school during the time I attended. I was different. I looked different, sounded different, dressed differently, and ate different foods from the other kids in the neighborhood. And they let me know I was different also. If I had a nickel for every time someone slanted their eyes or bucked out their teeth, I’d be loaded like John Calipari. You know how mean kids can be.
Secondly, even though I loved sports, I wasn’t very good at any of them. I had decent foot speed and could jump pretty well, but my parents insisted I put all my time, energies, and talent into schoolwork. Like an obedient Chinese son, I complied. I studied hard, made good grades, got into dental school, and had a wonderful career as an orthodontist.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t still dream. In fact, I still dream big about playing for the Wildcats. I know this sounds crazy as a washed-up, over-the-hill geezer, but I still think about how awesome it would feel to step out on the court and hit the game-winning shot in front of a huge adoring crowd. Like others in the Asian community who never had a chance, we’re all living it out through Johnny’s time on the court.
Is Johnny aware that he has the hopes and dreams of an entire ethnic community riding on his shoulders?
“It’s not something that’s always running in the back of my head,” Johnny told me back on Media Day. “I just go out and play. But definitely when I see the fans who supported me who are Asian, that definitely means a lot…That’s a great feeling, especially for my mom’s side, my grandparents, and stuff like that. That’s an awesome feeling to see that come full circle.”
Seeing Johnny Juzang on the Rupp Arena court has brought me full circle. I can fully relax now—knowing that if I had been 6’6 with skills like Johnny, that if I could have inherited a stroke like he has and that instinctual nose for the ball, that if I had parents and coaches who nurtured and encouraged me, that if I could have been fearless and unafraid…then I could have been just like Johnny…playing my heart out for the program with the greatest tradition (and the greatest fans) in the history of college basketball.
Johnny Juzang—talented, smart, and Asian. That’s a combination that’s gonna be extremely hard to beat.