It seems safe to assume the leadership Reid Travis provides Kentucky’s basketball team this season will take many forms. One form, which might not be anticipated, was on display at the Southeastern Conference Media Day on Wednesday.
It was not rah-rah verbal. It did not breathe life in the saying that action speaks louder than words. It was more of the follow-my-example variety of leadership.
While fielding questions, Travis made eye contact with reporters. His gaze, though friendly, did not waver.
His UK teammates have noticed how Travis will look you squarely in the eye.
“A lot of them don’t get it,” he said. “They’re young. . . . But for me, that’s one thing I can teach them as far as when you’re dealing with older guys, you’re really trying to teach them respect and show them you appreciate their time.”
It can be unnerving.
“I’m not scared of Reid,” freshman Keldon Johnson said at UK’s Media Day this month. “I don’t think anybody on the team is actually scared of him.”
But, Johnson allowed, “it can be intimidating for you all.”
Travis credited his high school coach, Dave Thorson, for making him appreciate eye contact.
“The thing he always preached to me is you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” Travis said of Thorson, now an assistant coach at Colorado State. “So his big deal is you make eye contact, have a firm handshake. . . . That’s how you show you’re engaged and you respect their time. And they respect you.”
Tennessee the favorite?
Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland tabbed Tennessee the favorite to win the SEC regular-season championship.
“They’re the best team in our league going into the season, in my opinion,” he said. “No doubt they’re the team to beat in our conference.”
To bolster his pick, Howland pointed out that Tennessee returned its top six scorers. And, of course, the Vols and Auburn were co-champs last season.
Media preseason balloting put Kentucky in first place.
“There’s no doubt Kentucky is right there with them,” Howland said, “and Auburn. But (the Vols) return everyone. How are they not the favorite?
The media vote put Travis on the preseason All-SEC first team. It seemed safe to assume the voters had, at best, limited experience watching Travis play for Stanford. Of course, he is a graduate transfer for UK.
“It’s pretty odd,” Travis said of being honored practically sight unseen.
“It’s an honor,” he said. “For me, to come in and as a new guy here, be able to really come here and represent them, it’s a blessing, and shows some of the work I put in.
“But, obviously, it’s a preseason honor. And, obviously, I’d like to be sitting in that position when the season is over.”
In decrying the growing number of players who change schools, coaches lamented what was called an epidemic of transfers.
That led a reporter to ask if the ongoing trial into college basketball corruption marked an epidemic of cheating.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t know (what’s going on in the New York-based trial),” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said. “It’s my job to know.”
Martin likened the trial to an audit.
“Every walk of life, every industry needs to be audited every once in a while,” he said. “And this is our audit. And whatever’s broken will get fixed.”
Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes was not so sure.
“Cheating has always been in basketball, and in every sport,” he said. “And in business. . . . It’s bad for our game. Do I think it will stop cheating? No.”
UK Coach John Calipari struck a more optimistic note. “My hope is all that is going on pushes in the outliers,” he said. “Like, let’s get this right. Part of that is there’s going to be stiffer penalties.”
‘Never done business’
LSU Coach Will Wade acknowledged surprise that his name was mentioned at the college basketball corruption trial this week. It was alleged that he was amenable to “funding” the recruitment of a player and advised the person on the phone that he would close his office door before continuing the conversation.
“I’m very proud of everything I’ve done as LSU coach,” he said. “I or we have never — ever — done business of any kind with Christian Dawkins.”
Dawkins is the self-styled player agent allegedly involved in setting up pay-for-play arrangements in recruiting.
Wade declined to answer follow-up questions.