To explain what makes a basketball player a good rebounder, Kentucky assistant coach Tony Barbee set aside height, bulk and vertical leap. He even bypassed fundamentals like getting good position and boxing out.
Barbee reached back further to more elemental qualities.
“Rebounding has always been about a want-to and a will-to,” he said Monday. “There’s some positioning things (and) technique things. More than anything, when the ball goes up on that rim, do you think it’s yours?”
Barbee, who substituted for UK Coach John Calipari at a regular day-before-the-game news conference, said Kentucky had two players who took a possessive approach to rebounding. Presumably, he meant guard Isaiah Briscoe, arguably the team’s fiercest competitor, and freshman big man Bam Adebayo.
“The rest of the guys have to catch up to that identity,” Barbee said.
Apparently, Tai Wynyard has been catching up. The redshirt freshman from New Zealand seemingly came out of nowhere to play at Ole Miss last week. When Calipari gave Adebayo a rest with 14:50 left in the first half, the UK coach put in Wynyard, who hadn’t played in a month.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” Wynyard said. That’s because he had shown in recent practices the want-to and will-to.
“Just my fight and my effort for rebounds, obviously,” Wynyard said of what got him on the court. “That’s my main priorities. Trying to get every single ball. That’s kind of where (Calipari has) put a lot of confidence in me.”
When asked what Calipari wants, Wynyard said, “All he’s trying to push for is the willingness. To dive on the floor and get every loose ball.”
Wynyard acknowledged he wasn’t an instant success at Ole Miss. He played only two minutes, picked up a foul and went to the bench. He did not play again, a decision Calipari second-guessed in his post-game news conference.
“I wasn’t as ready as I thought I was in my head, which was annoying … ,” Wynyard said. “I was a bit nervous, but, you know, you push through that.”
UK seeks ‘wrecking ball’
At Ole Miss, Kentucky took greater advantage of Adebayo’s emergence as a low-post force. Meanwhile, the search continues for a reliable backup when Adebayo needs rest or gets in foul trouble.
“Obviously, he can’t play the whole game,” Wynyard said. “So you really do need a backup. Somebody who’s going to fight for rebounds. If you put somebody in who doesn’t want to fight, then you miss out on all those rebounds that Bam gets.”
Calipari has used Isaac Humphries, Sacha Killeya-Jones and now Wynyard as relief man for Adebayo. So far, no one yet has a firm grasp on the role.
“It’s no secret we’ve got to get our other big guy to catch up to the level Bam is,” Barbee said. “Obviously, not everybody is going to be Bam physically. But it’s not so much what Bam does physically. It’s what he does mentally to approach the game. … He is a wrecking ball on both ends of the floor.”
Wynyard plays in a similarly physical way, Barbee said. “Now it’s up to Tai to catch up to what we’re trying to do scheme-wise.”
Freshman J.J. Caldwell was supposed to be Texas A&M’s point guard. But he did not gain academic eligibility, which left the Aggies in scramble mode.
“It definitely hurt us,” A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said. “That’s just reality. We didn’t know until September, so we weren’t able to recruit over that. We’ve had to make the adjustments.”
Shooting guard Admon Gilder has played some point. So has JC Hampton, a transfer from Lipscomb.
“That’s been our biggest hindrance at times,” Kennedy said. “And we knew it.”
A&M, 8-4, relies on a front line that includes leading scorer Tyler Davis (14.3 ppg), freshman Robert Williams (10.5 ppg) and versatile forward Tonny Trocha-Morelos (8.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 21 assists).
“They’ve got to be more efficient and more effective. … ,” Kennedy said of his big men. “I think our young guards will continue to get better. … We’ve been fortunate in the past to have some guys get eligible and this year it didn’t work out.”
As Barbee answered media questions, De’Aaron Fox happened to emerge from the training room. He stood behind reporters and coughed loudly enough to elicit giggles.
That prompted a reporter to ask Barbee about how disruptive — on the court — Fox is.
“Very disruptive,” Barbee said. “But he can be even more disruptive.”
To help that process along, Barbee said the coaches had Fox watch tape of Tyler Ulis’ harassing defense last season.
“Tyler was just a difference-maker defensively even at his size because he disrupted everything any other team tried to do,” Barbee said.
‘Not a surprise’
Because Fox grew up in Houston, Texas A&M coaches were well aware he could make an immediate impact as a freshman.
“It’s not a surprise,” Kennedy said. “He’s a great player. He’s been coming over here since he was a (high school) freshman. We’re very familiar with him. … Our guys have played with him in AAU. He’s having an outstanding freshman year. Obviously, he’s got great pieces around him. … We’ll have to do a good job of containing him the best we can to give ourselves a chance to win.”
UK has not given up on the idea of a four-guard lineup nor a twin towers look, Barbee said.
“This team has got to be versatile …,” he said. “(So that) we can play different styles against different teams.”
A&M lost 73-63 to visiting Tennessee in its SEC opener. In that game, Davis and Trocha-Morelos combined for four-for-18 shooting and nine points. … As a freshman last season, Davis averaged a double-double in two games against UK: 11.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. … Dave O’Brien, Dick Vitale and sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung will call the game for ESPN.