I thought I reached a point in my life where nothing could embarrass me. I thought wrong.
In 26 years I’ve broken an ankle walking to class. I have interrupted a 9/11 memorial service with an outburst of flatulence. Behind a free throw line I’ve lost a game and been berated with “manly girlfriend” chants. All of those moments pale in comparison to what happened at this morning’s McDonald’s All-American Game practice.
In between a pair of practices, an interview session broke out across the gym. While walking toward Keldon Johnson, I spotted Larry Vaught interviewing a big guy wearing a Kentucky hat. Last year at my first MCDAAG, I learned that parents can be a valuable resource for quotes. The chief of this beat is Larry Vaught. The man in the UK hat sat in the front row throughout Johnson’s practice. Putting two and two together, I assumed the man in the UK hat was Johnson’s father. In doing so, I was prepared to make an ass out of myself.
Following the Johnson interview, I rushed back to my seat to begin a post. Standing next to my seat was the large man in the Kentucky hat. I did not initially plan to speak with a parent, but he was right in front of me. There was an easy opportunity, one I could not waste.
Taking some initiative, I reached out my hand and said, “Mr. Johnson?”
He shook my hand and gave me a look, a look I believed to be affirmation, which gave me the go-ahead to continue the awkward introduction. “I’m Nick Roush. I write for Kentucky Sports Radio.”
His face changed when I mentioned KSR. Nervously, I tried to fill in the blank. “Drew, another guy that writes for our site, actually went to Oak Hill to interview your son.”
That’s when he cut me off. “I don’t have a son here.”
OUCH. Foot in mouth. I immediately back-tracked.
“I’m just a Kentucky fan,” the man explained. “I went to UK.”
Dumbfounded, I could feel my face turning red. In a panic, I tried to pivot the conversation and talk my way out of a terribly embarrassing situation. “I went to Kentucky too, when were you there?”
“From about 2001 to 05,” he responded.
“I just missed you,” I lied. “Are you here scouting?”
After he answered affirmatively, I apologized, “I’ll let you get back to work. Sorry about that.”
Crushed, the only way for me to move on was to work through the uncomfortable situation. I put in my headphones and began transcribing Johnson’s interview with the scout standing over my shoulder. The terrible experience was over, or so I thought.
Minutes later, a Rivals reporter approached the scout. “Chuck Hayes. It’s a pleasure to see you. I actually covered your recruitment back in the day.”
The revelation sparked an involuntary response. I kicked my leg and spilled coffee all over the hardwood floor of the Atlanta Hawks’ practice facility.
I thought Chuck Hayes was Keldon Johnson’s father.
Chuck Hayes. A childhood hero, second only to Tayshaun Prince. The undersized, hard-working big man that I hoped to be. A player that gave me so much joy, I cried when his final game ended in double overtime of the 2005 Elite Eight. Not only did I not recognize him, I insulted him by believing he was old enough to have an 18-year old son!
I cleaned up my mess and got back to my computer. After finishing my post, I kept my headphones in and stared blankly at the screen, unable to look up, afraid to see Hayes’ disappointing face. After a few minutes, the feeling passed. I had to find a way to make up for my mistake. “Surely it can’t go worse if I talk to him again,” I thought.
After exhaling a deep breath, I stood up and faced Hayes. “I have to take a Mulligan.”
Hayes obliged and laughed it off. I apologized and told him I couldn’t believe myself. I showed him the scar on my knuckle I received after jumping through the basement ceiling when Sparks’ three rolled through the rim against Michigan State. We spent the next ten minutes talking about his life as a scout, what he thought about this year’s Kentucky team and much more. At the end of the conversation, he agreed to join me on my radio show and gave me his phone number.
My big mouth and my dumb brain have put me in bad situations before, but nothing quite as embarrassing as “the time I met Chuck Hayes.” Fortunately, that same big mouth and dumb brain pushed me through painful adversity to create a fulfilling conversation I will never forget.