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By LARRY VAUGHT
As he tried to recall all the things he enjoyed about being an honorary assistant Kentucky basketball coach for one day, George Goodwin said three things stood out to him.
“The top three things are professionalism, kindness and just awesome,” said Goodwin. “The coaching staff, being able to watch them work on and off all day, no wonder we always have a good team. Those guys literally work all the time.”
Goodwin was coach John Calipari’s “assistant” Monday when the Wildcats hosted Transylvania in their final exhibition game. His son, Lane, died last month after a three-year battle with cancer that captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands of fans because of the “Thumbs Up For Lane” campaign and Big Blue Nation Cares, a group that provides basketball and football tickets to special UK fans, wanted to do something for the Goodwin family. The group provided front row seats for Angie Goodwin and her son, Landen, and George Goodwin got the assistant coach’s spot that a Big Blue Nation Cares supporter won in a silent auction at the John Calipari Fantasy Camp last summer.
“I just knew about Big Blue Nation, but not Big Blue Nation Cares. What they did for us was wonderful,” George Goodwin said. “I have to be honest, I sat there next to (former UK player and graduate assistant coach) Marquis Estill. Not that many years ago I was rooting for him and watching TV. Now I am sitting next to him. Then there’s Jon Hood from Madisonville, a super nice guy. I live 20 minutes from his high school. And I was there with him. Unbelievable.”
Calipari included Goodwin in numerous things during the day leading up to the game.
“That was neat. We took a picture and said a prayer with him after (the game). We gave him a picture of all the players, and George had his thumb up,” Calipari said. “We all were like that, and it’s a hard deal. He lost his son. But I think this was fun for him. Probably wasn’t fun in the first half. He had to sit there near me. May have been fun for him after. But nice man. He was at practice today, at our shoot-around. He was there with us. So he spent the day with us.”
Goodwin admits he was amazed at how easy Calipari and his staff made working with young players look. “Usually experts at their job make it look so easy that you think you can do it. It was just awesome to watch experts doing what they do best. That was one of the biggest thrills,” Goodwin said.
He was not prepared to be taken to midcourt and introduced to the crowd, that gave him a standing ovation as well as a “Thumbs Up” for his son.
“If you tell somebody to imagine perfection and then getting it, that’s what it was like,” he said of the trip to midcourt. I wasn’t scared, but when I was walking out there I was think of reasons why I was there. I was looking up at all these people and not seeing their faces because my eyes were a little teary. I was looking up for my son. Then I just stopped what I was doing and blew my wife and son, a little kid, a kiss. That was the only way I could keep my composure. She was crying, too. And I can’t thank the cheerleaders enough for going over before the game to take a picture with my son. He’s a bit of a ham and he loved that.”
Goodwin said it was a bit different than he expected during halftime after UK had struggled in the first half.
“One of the coaches asked me what I thought about what Calipari told the players and I said it was the same speech me or any UK fan would be giving in our living room if we were watching the game on TV,” Goodwin said. “That’s one of the greatest things about being a UK fan. You are the biggest advocate of how great your team is, but you are also the harshest of critics. It’s a great thing to be and Calipari is just like one of us. He was giving that same speech, just a lot more technical.”
Goodwin’s biggest hope from this experience is that his son’s story touched or changed someone else’s life, too.
“If one kid or one person, and all it takes is one, that was there has a little more knowledge today about childhood cancer or saw my son’s story of what has gone on and feels closer to his or her family, that’s great,” he said. “It’s like when you are first married and have kids and are with your wife dropping off the kids at your parents’ house so you can go out to dinner. You have that feeling of safety, but you are never totally safe about your kids. But just imagine if you know where your son is at right now and even though he is not with you physically, he’s with your spiritually and you know where he’s at. You know he is protected, is not in pain and you are eventually going to see him again. And this night we know Lane was with us and hopefully with a lot of other fans there enjoying the game, too.”