Since John Calipari became coach in 2009, Kentucky has had 18 one-and-done players. Isaiah Briscoe thought he would be the 19th.
“Yeah, I did,” he said. “I thought I was going to be one-and-done. But it didn’t happen. That’s totally fine.”
Briscoe said he came to the realization that he would have a sophomore season at Kentucky after going through the NBA pre-draft process last spring. He worked out for NBA teams. He talked to NBA personnel.
Then Briscoe sat down for a man-to-men talk with Calipari and associate coach Kenny Payne.
After all that, Briscoe said, “I wanted to come back.”
Although Calipari has made Kentucky synonymous with one-and-done players, there have been two-and-done players: Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Tyler Ulis, plus Andrew and Aaron Harrison.
To realize his NBA dreams next spring, Briscoe has set two goals: Improve his shooting and show leadership.
Calipari voiced confidence that Briscoe’s gritty competitiveness will provide leadership.
“Some guys pee themselves,” Calipari said of the responsibility to lead. “He’s on a mission.”
As for better shooting, Kentucky fans don’t need to be told that Briscoe shot poorly last season. They probably know the percentages by heart: 46 percent from the foul line and 13.5 percent from three-point range.
It got so bad that in the final three weeks of the regular season, Briscoe took only one three-point shot: a miss against Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
And the 46 percent accuracy from the foul line includes making all six attempts in the NCAA Tournament.
“The good news for him is he shot it so bad last year,” Calipari said. “If he shoots it 30 percent (from three) and 68 percent from the foul line, he’s like a lottery pick. And you would say, ‘Hey, what?!’ Because the improvement is so drastic.”
Briscoe embraced the shooting goals of 30 percent from three and 68 percent on free throws.
“It’s reasonable,” he said. “And we just had a talk the other day, and we both agreed that (30 and 68) as a lead guard is still not good enough. Just as long as I’m improving. And that’s what (NBA) people look at the most, he said.”
Shooting had not been a problem on the high school or AAU levels, Briscoe said. So, why did such a large percentage of shots miss?
“I don’t know,” Briscoe said. “And I don’t point the finger at nobody but myself. That was on me, and that’s just something I have to get better at.”
Shouldering responsibility is widely admired, but it’s difficult not to wonder whether changing positions had something to do with it. Briscoe came as a point guard, as did fellow freshman Jamal Murray, then both moved to the wings as Ulis gave Kentucky a stellar point guard.
“Yeah, you can say that,” Briscoe said of the position change affecting his shooting. “But Tyler was a great point guard. And I wasn’t mad or anything like that.”
Calipari seemed to allude to the position change when he dissected Briscoe’s shooting.
“He shoots it better probably off the bounce than catch-and-shooting it,” the UK coach said. “Because he’s not really played that way before, which probably affected him last year.
“But I told him it doesn’t matter if I put the ball in your hands more or less (or) play you at another position. It doesn’t matter if you don’t improve your shooting.”
With freshman De’Aaron Fox considered the likely point guard for Kentucky this season, it seems likely Briscoe will again spend considerable time on the wing.
Briscoe voiced confidence that he, Fox and another freshman, Malik Monk, will mesh nicely.
“I feel as though right now the chemistry between us is pretty good,” Briscoe said.
Briscoe meshed with Murray and Ulis last season even though, as Calipari suggested, the latter two “overshadowed” Briscoe.
“It’s all good,” Briscoe said of his contributions perhaps being underappreciated last season. “I don’t look for people to feel sorry for me. It is what it is. Can’t change it, now.”
And what if Briscoe plays in the shadow of Fox and Monk this season?
“I really don’t have any concerns about getting overshadowed,” Briscoe said. “I really didn’t have any concerns about getting overshadowed last year. It was just whatever my team needed me to do to win.”
Meet the Cats
This is the second in a series of 14 stories on Kentucky’s 2016-17 men’s basketball players.
Coming next: De’Aaron Fox and Brad Calipari.