UK Men's Basketball

Think the world has gone mad? A former Kentucky star seeks to reassure the fearful.

From left to right: Chuck Verderber, Lynda Ulrich and Liesl Ulrich-Verderber.
From left to right: Chuck Verderber, Lynda Ulrich and Liesl Ulrich-Verderber. Photo submitted

Neo Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Va., and chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Children separated from parents at the southern border as families try to immigrate to the United States. Scientists warning about a looming global catastrophe caused by climate change. One mass shooting after another.

If you think the world has gone berserk, a former Kentucky basketball player wants to ease your mind. Chuck Verderber, who played for UK 40 years ago, dedicates a website to stories he hopes uplift and/or reassure.

“We are aware of these issues,” Verderber said Friday of a news cycle that seems on a downward spiral. “But what keeps us motivated is just to make sure we give people something to tap into to take a break from that whole process. It’s just so draining all the time.”

The website, titled Ever Widening Circles, has run stories on an organization saving orphaned elephants in Kenya, an environmentalist who devised a way to use old cell phones to alert authorities about illegal logging in rainforests and an afterschool program in Phoenix that has boosted attendance and grades by giving students free skateboards and riding lessons.

Verderber, his wife, Lynda Ulrich, and daughter Liesl Ulrich-Verderber run the website. They’ve acknowledged being accused of presenting an unrealistic view of the world.

“I don’t want to (suggest) that there are not things that need to be talked about, that need to be heard,” Verderber said. “You’ve got to find that balance (between positive and negative). We’re not in this with rose-colored eyes and thinking it’s a Pollyanna world. People just need something that (says), ‘Hey, that’s a cool story.’”

What prompted the launching of the website in 2014 was Ulrich searching the internet for information celebrating innovation and insight. She came up empty.

Ulrich said she understands what the media considers news. The unusual, which she called the “outlier,” is newsworthy. Planes land safely: no story. Plane crashes: story.

“What I tell people is the time to worry is when goodness is an outlier,” she said.

A tragedy started Verderber and Ulrich on this path. When she was 15, her best friend’s mother, father and one sister were murdered at home. The friend escaped through a window. The next morning her parents told Ulrich what happened and asked her to support her friend.

“I went on a search for goodness,” said Ulrich, who prefers not to go into detail about the murders. “That’s the way my 15-year-old brain went, and I’ve been on it all my life.”

Verderber said the tragedy drew him closer to Lynda. “We’ve always been passionate about living each day to the fullest because you just never know when that day might be,” he said.

A 1905 poem by Rainer Maria Rilke titled “Widening Circles” inspired the website’s name. During a telephone conversation Thursday, Ulrich recited the poem. She said it inspired the husband and wife to want to serve others and “live your life with some convictions.”

The website, which carries a motto of “It’s still an amazing world,” is not intended to serve political or commercial interests. “We want to keep everyone under the tent,” Ulrich said.

Verderber and Ulrich have been dentists in St. Albans, Vt., for more than 30 years. They’ve noticed patients grumbling about the state of the world while in the waiting room. This prompted an effort to find and post reaffirming video stories on televisions in their waiting room, at hospitals, airports and other public gathering places. It has been noted how polarizing regular programming can be: Fox News viewers dislike MSNBC and vice versa. Soap operas upset some viewers when they see unmarried couples share a bed. Even The Weather Channel is not benign because extensive reporting of hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters can unnerve viewers.

Verderber and Ulrich center their videos on innovation in science, technology and the arts. “Something that is inspiring,” Ulrich said.

To better understand the world, the former UK player and his family have been to every continent except Australia and Antarctica. “Definitely on the list that will be done at some point,” Verderber said of those two continents. “There’s no doubt.”

A recent trip to Nairobi, Kenya, proved inspiring as the family saw people cope creatively with poverty.

“That’s not the world we see in the news,” Verderber said. “We want to make sure those people are being seen because they have so much to offer.

“We’re trying to change that negative dialogue, and making sure people have a more balanced view of what’s going on. I think we’re too unbalanced in our views.”

Then and now

Given how Kentucky basketball strives to be synonymous with the NBA, the contrast between then and now is stunning. The Chicago Bulls picked Kentucky forward Chuck Verderber in the seventh round of the 1982 NBA Draft.

After the draft, the Bulls sent Verderber a letter. He never opened it. It was subsequently framed and put on display on the family’s “Wall of Fame” at home.

Verderber explained. Before the draft, he and his wife, Lynda Ulrich, had been accepted into UK’s dental school. His mentor, ex-Cat Bob Guyette, had played five seasons in Spain after college before entering dental school.

Former UK basketball player Chuck Verderber stood next to the “Wall of Fame” in his Vermont home. Over his right shoulder is an unopened letter he received from the Chicago Bulls after they drafted him in the seventh round in 1982. Photo submitted

Verderber chose to play in Spain, where his salary would be about the same, plus the team paid for housing and travel back to the U.S. “All we had to do was eat,” he said. “Eat and drink. That was good.”

The money saved could help pay for dental school. A torn Achilles tendon in his first season in Spain led Verderber and Ulrich to enter UK dental school in the fall of 1983.

Verderber considered being a seventh-round pick as precarious. The Bulls could — and very likely would — cut him at any time. So he did not open the letter.

“It’s a whole different game now,” Verderber said. “For me, (the NBA) wasn’t the career I wanted to pursue.”

Vandy’s schedule

Scheduling has been much-discussed this offseason. On Thursday, Vanderbilt announced its non-conference schedule. Home games will be against Southeast Missouri State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Austin Peay, South Carolina State, Southeastern Louisiana, Tulsa, Buffalo, Liberty, UNC Wilmington, Davidson and SMU.

Those teams had an average of 173.9 in the final NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) ratings of last season. For perspective, Kentucky’s non-conference home opponents averaged 178.1 in the final NET.

New Vandy Coach Jerry Stackhouse spoke of increasing the degree of difficulty in future schedules.

“We want to continue to test and challenge our players,” he said in a news release. Playing top competition “will not only prepare us for the rigors of SEC play, but ultimately in our pursuit of becoming a championship contending program.”

Talking shop

New coach. New task: resuscitating a once-proud program.

First-year Louisville football coach Scott Satterfield fits this job description. A year earlier, so did U of L basketball coach Chris Mack. Coincidentally, and no doubt pleasing to the ears of a rhyming Simon, Louisville charged Mack and Satterfield with cleaning up after Rick Pitino and Bobby Petrino, respectively.

At U of L’s football media day, a reporter asked Satterfield if he had consulted with Mack.

“We’ve talked a little bit,” Satterfield said, “but not extensively about that. There are similarities, I think, him coming in and the way we came in. But nothing specific, really.”

Satterfield said he and Mack had “hung out” a few times. He suggested that in the future he’d like to compare notes with U of L’s basketball coach.

Where are they now?

Nigel Hayes, who famously (or infamously, if you prefer) shot and scored after the shot clock expired for Wisconsin against UK in the 2015 Final Four, played in Lithuania last season. He then played for the Clippers’ summer league team.

One of Hayes’ teammates on the Clippers’ summer league team was former UK big man (and noted musician) Isaac Humphries.

In the Las Vegas-based summer league, Hayes averaged 22.8 minutes, 4.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. He made nine of 31 shots (29 percent). Humphries averaged 13.0 minutes, 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds.

Happy birthday

To Ryan Hogan. He turned 41 on Thursday. … To Terry Mills. He turned 71 on Thursday. … To James Young. He turned 24 on Friday. … To Archie Goodwin. He turned 25 on Saturday. … To Christian Laettner. He turned 50 on Saturday. … To Kenny Walker. He turns 55 on Sunday (today). … To Willie Cauley-Stein. He turns 26 on Sunday (today). … To former Florida Coach Lon Kruger. He turns 67 on Monday. … To former Indiana standout Quinn Buckner. He turns 65 on Tuesday. … To Jodie Meeks. He turns 32 on Wednesday.