Tai Wynyard notes differences in New Zealand and US basketball playing
Numbers can be deceiving. But numbers accurately reflect the starkly different basketball worlds Tai Wynyard experienced in the last year.
As a redshirt freshman for Kentucky, he scored a total of 11 points, grabbed a total of 13 rebounds, scored one basket after Nov. 28 and did not play at all after Feb. 7.
As a player for New Zealand in the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup, he led the team with averages of 13.8 points and 9.2 rebounds.
So after that feast and famine, it came as no surprise that Wynyard wondered aloud how he might fit in Kentucky’s plans for the 2017-18 season.
“Just figuring out that role I can play for this year’s team is what I’m focusing on,” he said.
When asked what that role could be, he said, “I don’t know yet.”
That description could fit a lot of players as Kentucky depends on freshmen in another do-over.
Wynyard acknowledged the difficulty in not playing much last season (he played in 15 of 38 games, and averaged 3.6 minutes).
“Yeah, frustrating,” he said. “But not really. I understood I wasn’t the best player. So I didn’t deserve to get that court time. ... It was really a lot of learning for me.”
Then came the FIBA U19 event in Egypt. “It was a lot of fun being able to go out and represent my country again,” he said. “Got to see the pyramids and that kind of stuff. I did have a lot of fun.”
Wynyard said his past experience playing for New Zealand helped him get on the team. He played for the U19 team three years earlier.
Of averaging nearly a double-double, Wynyard said, “I was playing pretty well over there. I was getting the ball a lot more. ... Playing for my national team and being that star player was a lot of fun.”
There were familiar faces in the U19 event. Kentucky teammates Hamidou Diallo and PJ Washington played for the U.S. team coached by John Calipari.
New Zealand came within a game of playing the U.S.
“Oh man, I really did want to play Coach Cal,” Wynyard said. “It would have been a lot of fun.”
Wynyard did not need a game against the U.S. team to show Calipari what he could do. The UK coach sat in the stands and watched New Zealand’s games.
“Obviously, he saw, maybe, I made a little more progress,” Wynyard said. “And he just keeps telling me I’m getting better. So, obviously, he’s going to see that. And hopefully he did.”
Wynyard has had to make a basketball adjustment. Basketball in New Zealand is more about strength. Athleticism does not play as big a role there as in the U.S.
“There are people who can get their head to the rim, but not like over here,” he said. “There’s so many more people over here that are just athletic, quick and long. ... That’s one of the main differences.”
Wynyard, who came to UK at semester break in the 2015-16 school year, enjoyed success off the court in 2016-17. He made the Southeastern Conference Academic honor roll. He said his grade-point average was better than 3.5.
“I was pretty proud of that,” he said. “Like they were pretty proud of me.”
Wynyard’s major is communications.
“I can go into media or anything like that,” he said. “It’s a wide-open door for communications. So that’s why I picked it.”