In his first interviews with the Kentucky media corps, Reid Travis came across as thoughtful, intelligent and someone who brings perspective to the eye of the UK basketball hurricane.
Travis, who transferred to UK this offseason armed with a degree from Stanford, acknowledged an obvious incongruity: He is perceived as a veteran leader despite never having experienced Kentucky basketball.
“I think it’s just being humble in the fact that I’m not going to walk in the door and gain everybody’s trust the first day,” he said Wednesday. “That’s something you’ve got to work on day in and day out. Show my work ethic. Show I can be that leader. And then, hopefully, when we get into the season, show I can be that leader.”
Travis, a two-time All-Pacific 12 player for Stanford, pointed out that he’s not a novice at leadership. He was the Cardinals’ captain the past three seasons.
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But . . .
“The reality is I kind of feel like a freshman all over again . . . as far as being here and being fresh and still going through the system,” Travis said. “But my little tidbits I can give them here and there, I’m definitely going to do that. Try to mold myself into that role.”
With each response, Reid trained his pale eyes on the questioner. A connection seemed to be made.
From comments Wednesday, Travis’ style of leadership will be vocal as well as by example.
“Showing them how you’re supposed to talk,” he said of his new teammates/presumed followers. “How you play team defense. I think that’s the biggest transition from high school to college: How vocal you have to be. How much you have to talk to help your teammates.”
UK Coach John Calipari vouched for Travis’ ability and willingness to communicate.
“Reid really, really talks because he’s done this a long time,” Calipari said. “He’s trying to get the other guys to talk as well.”
Of course, Kentucky is expected to want more from Travis than chatty leadership. Calipari spoke of Travis and sophomore PJ Washington giving the 2018-19 Cats the chance to be his most physical team.
Travis’ learning curve extends to the court. Calipari said Travis has struggled to finish shots around the basket. The UK coach said he asked Travis why he missed shots that the coach saw him make repeatedly for Stanford.
“Length,” Travis responded, meaning UK’s collection of “bigs” contested shots. He said he would find that level of competition “here and there during the season” playing for Stanford. “Now, I’m getting it every day in practice.”
“It’s the best thing for him,” Calipari said.
Conversely, one of the other “bigs,” freshman EJ Montgomery, has made an early impression on Calipari.
“EJ is much better than I thought,” the UK coach said. “He’s 6-11, but he’s a basketball player.”
Calipari said he matched up Travis and Washington in most practice sessions. Travis acknowledged the similarities he shares with Washington: both entered and then withdrew from this year’s NBA Draft; both are perceived as power players who must improve their perimeter skills.
When asked if Kentucky’s track record of producing NBA Draft picks played a part in his transfer decision, Travis said, “Yeah. That definitely had something to do with it.”
As a McDonald’s All-American out of high school, Travis was sold on Stanford by former Cardinal forward Mark Madsen, who played against UK in the 1998 Final Four.
“The model of being a Stanford man, and the things that come with that,” Travis said of Madsen’s pitch. “Everything he said did come true. Now that I have my diploma (degree in Science Technology and Society), I definitely have that feeling he was describing to me when I was 16, 17 years old.”
Travis said he came to Kentucky, in part, to keep alive the possibility of having the feeling that comes with being an NBA player.
Calipari will push him to improve as a player.
“He said he wanted me to move better, wanted me to catch lobs, wanted me to be a guy to switch out onto the point guard and guard him for a few slides,” Travis said of Calipari’s urgings. “ . . . That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here. I wanted him to be dead honest with me. Those were things he thought I could change to be in a better position to help the team and ultimately help me be a better professional, if that was what I was going to do.”
UK in the Bahamas
When: Aug. 6-13
Where: Atlantis Imperial Arena on Paradise Island
Games: Aug. 8, 9 and 11 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 12 at 4 pm.
Opponents: Professional teams from Argentina, the Bahamas, Canada and Serbia
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630