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Vaught’s note: Josh Kays of Bardstown covers high school basketball recruiting for Wildcat Blue Nation, but wanted to share this perspective on Nerlens Noel.
By JOSH KAYS
Nerlens Noel’s legacy will be on and off the court
Nerlens Noel came into Kentucky this season as the most heralded recruit in the 2012 class, and was being compared to Anthony Davis on the defensive end. Everybody who knew the game of basketball knew Noel could be a great college shot blocker, knew he would give 100 percent every time he put on the Kentucky jersey, and knew he would be a high lottery pick in the 2013 NBA draft. But nobody knew how much of an impact he would have off the court.
During the season Noel was always doing something within the community, and would do anything to put a smile on somebody’s face. It began with face time with Lane Goodwin — a young boy and UK fan that lost his life after battling cancer. Nerlens took time out of his busy schedule to make sure he put a smile on Lane’s face before it ended so sadly. Everybody started to see then just how special Noel is, but this past weekend took it to another level, and it showed everybody that this wasn’t an act that Noel was putting on. He is truly a big hearted guy.
Nerlens wasn’t in attendance for the Kentucky Oaks on Friday because he was visiting sick children at Kosair Children’s hospital. But he was in attendance at the Brown Stable Barn Party that night. Noel had his long time best friend and 2014 recruit Goodluck Okonoboh along with him for the night, but told KSTV that he was going to have a guest from the hospital as his guest for the Derby on Saturday.
If you are a part of the Big Blue Nation you have heard of “Kickin it for Kelly.” It’s a foundation for 7-year-old Kelly Melton, who is battling Leukemia. Kelly is a huge Kentucky football, and basketball fan that comes to games/practices when he can. Nerlens knew about Kelly before this weekend, but it just so happened that Kelly was doing his treatments at Kosair the same day Noel came to visit. Kelly is a very uplifting and inspiring kid that doesn’t let this sickness get him down, kind of the same mentality Noel had after a season ending knee injury.
Kelly got to join Nerlens on Derby day as his guest, and was styling just like his idol was. Noel and his friend Okonoboh took very good care of Kelly during the day, and he even got to walk down the red carpet with Nerlens and company. I can’t imagine the feeling that Kelly had on that special day, but I know for me that was one of the happiest moments in my lifetime of being a Kentucky fan.
Nerlens was a great player on the court, and will be remembered for his hustle and shot blocking ability he presented for Kentucky every game until the injury. But I think Noel’s legacy will be what he has done off the court while being in Lexington.
Noel will go down as one of my favorite players to ever put on a Kentucky jersey, and I am glad he spent his year in college at the University of Kentucky. Thank you for everything Nerlens. You will always be a Cat!
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.”
(photos by Clay Jackson, Victoria Graff, Angie Goodwin and Gary Moyers. All rights reserved, property of vaughtsviews.com and Schurz Communications, Inc.)
By LARRY VAUGHT
Fans at Monday’s Kentucky-Transylvania game got to give a “Thumbs Up For Lane” when George Goodwin, the father of Lane Goodwin, was introduced and brought to midcourt. Lane Goodwin fought a courageous three-year battle with cancer before dying last month after he captured the hearts of many.
Big Blue Nation Cares made it possible for George Goodwin to be an honorary assistant coach for the game and not only sit on the bench with UK coach John Calipari, but also spend most of the day with him. Goodwin’s wife, Angie, and son, Landon, also had front row seats at the game thanks to Big Blue Nation Cares.
Enjoy the photos, including the one where cheerleaders Dylan Smith and Stephannie Johnson got other cheerleaders together to pose for a picture with Angie and Landon.
By LARRY VAUGHT
George Goodwin knows any Kentucky basketball fan would consider it the “thrill of a lifetime” to sit on the bench in Rupp Arena with UK coach John Calipari and his players, something he’ll get to do tonight when the Wildcats face Transylvania in an exhibition game.
However, for him it’s going to be even more special because of the emotions it will have after the recent death of his son, 13-year-old Lane Goodwin of Beech Grove, Ky. Lane Goodwin drew more than 300,000 fans to his Facebook page following his three-year battle with cancer.
An attendee at the John Calipari Fantasy Camp who submitted the top bid to be an assistant coach at a UK game this year worked through Big Blue Nation Cares — an organization that provides UK basketball and football tickets to special fans — to give his spot on the bench to George Goodwin in honor of his son’s memory after he was inspired by a speech ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale gave at John Calipari’s fantasy camp last summer.
The “Thumbs Up for Lane” campaign inspired many and FOX 56 news anchor Jennifer Palumbo even had her picture taken with Calipari’s team giving the “thumbs up” to Lane.
“I don’t even know what to say,” George Goodwin said. “I am certainly overwhelmed by it all. The only thing I have literally thought about, and I know this sounds crazy, is what to wear.”
No matter what he wears, he’ll have a gold ribbon on his shirt to honor his son’s memory. His wife, Angie, and other son, Landen, will also have front row seats for the game thanks to Big Blue Nation Cares as a result of a joint effort between BBNC members and former UK sports information director Russell Rice, a 2011 UK Hall of Fame inductee.
“To be honest, I am a little scared about it all,” George Goodwin said.
That’s because he remembers when Lane got a chance to share “Face time” with UK freshman Nerlens Noel and he advised his son what a “big deal” it was to talk to a future “championship-type guy” like Noel.
“Lane was okay and it went great, but I was so nervous,” George Goodwin said. “You look at these kids that come to play basketball at UK and think that they have to be ready to play and take care of school. After talking to Nerlens with my son, I see how great these guys are. I do not know Nerlens well, but I can say this is a nice, respectful young man and the type of kid you would be happy to invite for supper and talk to. I imagine all these kids are the same. I will be extremely humbled and polite — and also looking up to them all since I am only 6-foot tall.”
Goodwin isn’t sure what the crowd response might be like because he’s not sure fans will know who he is or why he’s on the bench.
“To be honest, I am still pretty emotional about losing Lane,” he said. “It a lot of people stand up and do the ‘thumbs up” or something, there is a very good chance I will cry. This has changed all our lives.
“My son and our family took the worst case scenario and tried to make it as positive as possible. When I start getting misty eyed walking down the hallway seeing his picture, I stop, take a deep breath, pray to keep my composure and keep on walking. I pray a lot and about half the time it is to God and half to Lane. It’s like, ‘Hey Lane, look at us’ and I talk to him. I am married to a mental health therapist, but she does not think I am crazy and what I do is understandable.
“I think at the game I am just going to be … I don’t even know. I am not the type to be scared or anything, but this is going to be so special for us all. It takes one heck of a man to coach at Kentucky. You are at the top level. To be able to sit with experts in their field and be part of this game is just great and I really appreciate what is being done for our family.”
He has no doubts that Lane will be watching everything tonight.
“It just makes me feel better inside knowing he is looking over me. I know my son is in a better place with God and is truly looking down on us and is still with us,” Goodwin said. “I know he’s looking over me daily and know he will be there in Rupp Arena with us. I am just a lucky guy. I have a strong, smart, beautiful wife, two great kids and a snappy haircut. Now I get to do something like this thanks to someone else’s generosity. It’s just hard to explain what that means.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s exhibition game against Transylvania Monday is special because it gives the hometown Division III team a chance to play in Rupp Arena, gain national exposure and add money to its basketball budget.
However, this event should be even more special this year.
An attendee at the John Calipari Fantasy Camp who submitted the top bid to be an assistant coach at a UK game this year has worked through Big Blue Nation Cares — an organization that provides UK basketball and football tickets to special fans — to give his spot to the family of Lane Goodwin.
Goodwin is the 13-year-old Kentucky boy from Beech Grove who drew more than 300,000 fans to his Facebook page following his battle with cancer. He died last month after nearly three years of battling the illness. The “Thumbs Up for Lane” campaign inspired many and FOX 56 news anchor Jennifer Palumbo even had her picture taken with John Calipari’s team giving the “thumbs up” to Lane. He was also a big St. Louis Cardinals fan and the team remembered him during its National League playoff run.
His family released this statement thanking everyone for their support and involvement: “We would like to thank the community for the incredible display of human kindness over the past two and a half years. Our sweet Lane had a beautiful smile. He was full of energy and loved sharks, fishing, soccer, adventure and his brother, Landen. Lane had an incredible Christian faith, and we are able to find peace in the extraordinary life he lived in his short few years.”
While there has been no official word about anything special Monday, don’t be surprised to see this happen. No one has reached out to UK fans more than Calipari and this is something Kentucky fans — and players — would embrace. It would also help raise awareness about childhood cancer. Apparently Lane’s father will be on the bench and his mother and brother will be sitting in the front row at Rupp several seats down from former UK coach Joe B Hall.
Certainly it would be an emotional night for Goodwin’s family, but obviously he was a special young man and somehow you have to think he would enjoy looking down from heaven and watching his family enjoy this night thanks once again to a friend of Big Blue Nation Cares who generously gave up his spot on the bench with Calipari to someone who will appreciate it even more. The donor says Dick Vitale’s speech at the fantasy camp helped inspire him to reach out to the Goodwin family. He hopes Vitale understands the impact his speech that day made not only on him but how moved/inspired many were by the time he spent at the camp.
* * *
The front row seats used by Big Blue Nation Cares each year are a result of a joint effort between BBNC members and former UK sports information director Russell Rice, a 2011 UK Hall of Fame Inductee.
FOX 56 news anchor Jennifer Palumbo shared this photo that she got with the University of Kentucky basketball players for Lane Goodwin.
Goodwin, 13, has a rare cancer — alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. That’s an aggressive cancer that affects just one in a million children. Goodwin, who lives in Beech Grove, has received a tremendous amount of support that includes the thumbs up gesture the Cats are giving him. He always found a way to give a thumbs up when people asked how he was feeling despite battling the illness he is.
Recently he was moved to a hospice near his home.
Hopefully this photo from the Cats and Palumbo brought a smile to his face and to those around him as well.