This is the fourth in a series of stories on each of the 16 UK men's basketball players leading up to Big Blue Madness on Oct. 18. Coming next: Julius Randle
From wary freshman to knowledgeable junior. That's the transformation Brian Long has made at Kentucky.
"Oh, man, it's been a big difference," he said of his time with the UK team. "I've grown up over the last two years. I'm now one of the older people on the team. I'm not one of the young kids anymore."
Of course, a new group of freshmen begin that journey this season. Chances are they'll never experience what it's like to be a worldly college junior. In the meantime, there's the interesting dynamic of UK's smallest player (5-foot-9, 155 pounds) being among its most well-informed.
"I just try to help them as much as I can," Long said. "Trying to answer their questions."
Long is wise enough to know the difference between telling someone what to expect and that person experiencing it for themselves.
"You've got to live it yourself," he said. "No matter what I say, it's going to be different. You've got to see it for yourself: the practice, the workout, conditioning, the fans. Everything is really difficult and really crazy here at Kentucky. There's no place like it. But you almost have to live it to understand it."
For instance, UK Coach John Calipari has yet to reveal himself to the newcomers. All the tweeting, blogging and social media multi-tasking done by assistants merely gives the illusion of transparency. It serves to promote coach and program brands.
"They haven't really seen Coach Cal yet," Long said of the freshmen. "... He'll be around a little bit. But he won't really come in till the day after Midnight Madness. Then you'll see a new side of him."
Message received: Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz.
Or as Long described it, "Just coaching and motivating and just looking to push people to be the best they can be. He does a great job with that."
Long offered a simple bit of advice. "You have to listen to him and go with the flow."
The son of a longtime high school coach, Long might be expected to be the authority figure wielding a whistle and practice plan someday. But he's unsure about his future beyond earning a degree in communications.
"I don't know if I want to do coaching or communications," he said. "I don't know if I could ever follow in the footsteps."
"Because I've been around it so long," he said. "I feel I could do it, but I don't know if I really could do it. ... Just being around it so long, you see different sides of it."
There are the time demands. But Long's ambivalence stems from something besides the hours or the workload.
"Coach Cal says, at this level, he's got a lot of people's lives in his hands," Long said. "It's not a very easy job to deal with. And you've got to be really good at it. And you've got to have a competitiveness to you. It's a talent."
Meet the Cats
This is the fourth in a series of stories on each of the 16 UK men's basketball players leading up to Big Blue Madness on Oct. 18. Coming Sunday: Julius Randle
Uniform number: 32
Height, weight: 5-9, 155
Hometown: Dumont, N.J.
High school: River Dell
Online: Watch a video interview with Brian Long.