Several University of Kentucky basketball players were seated on the floor of the Picadome Elementary gym Friday afternoon.
They were joined by students at the school, and all were listening as UK director of basketball administration Will Barton announced to the crowd of kids and teachers that a game of duck-duck-goose would start off the day’s festivities.
The students looked on eagerly. Some of the Wildcats looked confused.
They didn’t know the rules.
After a brief explanation, a young girl started off the game by tagging UK freshman Kevin Knox, who jumped up and frantically chased her around the circle. She was too quick for the five-star recruit, matter-of-factly taking a seat before Knox could get her.
The games were on.
UK’s players were at the school to deliver lunches as part of the athletic department’s God’s Pantry program. The Cats were also there to have a little fun.
“One of the things that (Coach John Calipari) preaches is servant leadership, and that’s one of the things he wants to teach us,” sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel said. “For us to come over here and show these kids how it is to be positive. Have a smile on your face. Seeing how excited they got about being around us was real great for us.”
Gabriel and Knox were joined by junior guard Jonny David, sophomore center Tai Wynyard and freshmen Jemarl Baker, Hamidou Diallo and Jarred Vanderbilt.
“My favorite part was seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces,” Vanderbilt said. “Them actually being engaged and enjoying this. And us having this platform to come out and do this type of stuff, it’s a blessing.”
The Picadome students and teachers — already assembled in the school’s gym — applauded and cheered when the Wildcats made their entrance.
Barton introduced each player to the kids, and a few of them joined the Cats on the floor for the game of duck-duck-goose, which was followed by a relay race and a little pickup basketball.
Gabriel threw down a couple of highlight-reel dunks (no hanging on the rim, please), and Knox — perhaps the most highly touted of UK’s incoming players — missed his first dunk attempt as a Wildcat outside the friendly confines of the Joe Craft Center. (He made up for it with a successful jam later on.)
The trip to Picadome ended with a slam-dunk display by the Cats, and Diallo finished things off by jumping over the school’s principal, Jennifer Hutchison, who was seated in the lane, and throwing down a one-handed slam.
The kids cheered, and Gabriel ran across the gym to give Diallo a chest bump.
“I was just being a kid — trying to spread some energy around,” Gabriel said.
As the kids mobbed some of his teammates with hugs and high-fives, Gabriel ran around the court with a huge smile on his face, shaking hands with some of the other students.
“I knew it was going to mean a lot for me to be able to come here,” he said. “Interacting with kids, I just see how happy and how you can affect their lives by doing small things like this.”