UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky players salute Jamaican icon, family bond with eye-catching tattoos

The website says that people get tattoos for various reasons. Those include to celebrate being fans (of a sports team, TV show, actor, movie, politician, etc). Or for sentimental reasons (to commemorate a loved one).

For two Kentucky players, tattoos seem to open a window into a part of their souls. In both cases, the revealing statement is on their right arms.

Nick Richards has an image of singer/songwriter Bob Marley.

“I thought it’d be a good idea to have a Jamaican icon on my body,” Richards said. “Like, my whole entire arm is dedicated to New York and Jamaica. Places I really grew up in.”

Of course, Richards is a native of Jamaica. He moved to New York as he entered high school because his mother needed medical treatment in the United States.

Elsewhere on his right arm Richards has tattoos of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline.

Of course, Richards’ two homes — Jamaica and New York City — could hardly be more different.

“Like two opposites coming together,” he said. “Jamaica is more open, mountains, trees. Everybody is not hustling, bustling to get everywhere. They’re friendly.

“New York is more of a business-type thing.”

Richards, whose basketball path will include a third UK season, said it took him two years to adjust to living in New York. And that was with the benefit of having basketball teammates to help acclimate him to a new life.

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Kentucky basketball player Nick Richards has an image of singer/songwriter Bob Marley tattooed on his right arm. “I thought it’d be a good idea to have a Jamaican icon on my body,” Richards said. “Like, my whole entire arm is dedicated to New York and Jamaica. Places I really grew up in.” Jerry Tipton

The tattoo that Nate Sestina had put on his right arm a year ago involves seven arrows twisted together at the mid-point of the shafts.

The message? “An unbreakable bond,” Sestina said. “And there’s seven people in my family. So there are seven arrows.”

A closer look shows a letter in each arrow head spelling out S-E-S-T-I-N-A.

His oldest brother, Jason Sestina, was the first to get the tattoo of twisted arrows. Another brother, Andrew Sestina, then did likewise. Sisters Jennifer Sestina and Kristin Sestina may also get the tattoos, the UK player said.

“I’m really a family-oriented kid,” he said.

This shows itself in more than one tattoo. During UK’s Media Day on Tuesday, Sestina spoke of the Roman numeral VII he has tattooed on the left side of his chest. “Seven people in my family and it’s seven people close to my heart,” he said.

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Nate Sestina, left, and Nick Richards, right, make up two-thirds of Kentucky’s 2019-20 big-man trio, which also includes EJ Montgomery. Caitlyn Stroh

The bottom line

Why does the NCAA and some other college athletic officials resist the growing momentum to allow athletes to profit off their names, images and likenesses? Is it because they believe passionately in amateurism?

“It’s even more primal,” said Ohio University professor David Ridpath, the president of The Drake Group, which seeks reform in college athletics. He said a passionate belief in money and power fuels the resistance.

By allowing athletes to profit off their sports profile, “you are stepping on somebody’s money and stepping on their power,” Ridpath said.

The current college sports system generates a reported $14 billion per year.

“If players are getting money for name, image and likeness, that’s going to mean less people buying suites and tickets,” Ridpath said. “That’s really what the bottom line is. It’s the fear of a loss of revenue and a fear of loss of power.”

How would a player profiting off his or her name, image and likeness reduce revenue generated by suites and ticket sales?

“Somebody that’s going to give $50,000 to pay an athlete to be an endorser for the local car dealership (might say) ‘Since I’m spending that money on the athlete, I don’t want to donate to the Wildcat club or whatever it may be,’” Ridpath said of this counter-argument.

“I think that’s a stretch. But, for me, even if that’s true, that’s no reason to keep money away from the athletes. And you’re basically saying you want to control the money for yourself. For me, it’s all about power, money and control. That’s why. Not that they love amateurism.”

Calipari on NIL

During an appearance Thursday at The Rotary Club of Lexington, John Calipari was asked what he thought of California’s new law allowing athletes to make endorsement deals and hire agents beginning in 2023. As he did on UK’s Media Day earlier in the week, the UK coach said he wanted to become more familiar with the law before commenting.

Calipari said he had met with UK President Eli Capilouto about the issue. And he wanted to hear what action the NCAA might take regarding Name, Image and Likeness (NIL). The NCAA is expected to release a set of recommendations on Oct. 29.

“The NCAA moves so slowly, it drives everybody crazy …,” Calipari told the Rotarians. “This (California) law probably will speed them up, which I think is good for us to figure out how we do this.”

‘The Dragon’

Freshman Kahlil Whitney is also known as “The Dragon.” At UK’s Media Day, he said his father, Kelly Whitney, gave him the nickname at a tournament about a year ago.

“I had a bad game, and he cursed me out or whatever,” said Whitney before amending that with a smile, “He gave me some words of encouragement.”

The elder Whitney played for Seton Hall. As for the postgame father-son dialogue, Kahlil said, “I really can’t give you all those words of encouragement. But I went out the next game and had, like, 48 (points). And he was just in the crowd screaming, ‘He’s a dragon! He’s a dragon!’

“And the next thing I know, everybody in the crowd was saying, ‘That’s the dragon’ and stuff like that. And I just went along with it, and it’s been working well for me.”

Courteous Cal?

During UK Media Day, Riley Welch said that John Calipari can be an arresting presence. “You know you’re in the presence of greatness,” he said.

Calipari also cuts, uh, an animated figure along the sideline during games. So Welch said he was surprised upon joining the UK team as a walk-on.

“He says ‘please’ a lot more often than I expected him to,” Welch said of the UK coach.

When asked for an example, Welch recalled Calipari saying to players, “Please listen.”

Welch called this courteous request “something I never heard any of my coaches say.”

Kentucky is Welch’s third college. He earlier played for UC Irvine and the College of the Desert.

When asked how a coach might typically seek the attention of an inattentive player, Welch said, “I don’t think I can say on camera. There was no ‘please’ involved.”

Friday on my mind

John Calipari told the audience at The Rotary Club of Lexington that he has notable advice for the UK players: “If you want to be different, if you want to stand out, hand-write notes.”

To help foster more personal interaction and less social media gibberish, Calipari said he does not allow texting or emailing on Fridays. Then he told the Rotarians, “I’m giving you an idea.”

Happy birthday

To former UK women’s coach Mickie DeMoss. She turned 64 on Thursday. … To Sheray Thomas. He turned 35 on Friday. … To Junior Braddy. He turned 48 on Friday. … To Sean Sutton. He turned 51 on Friday. … To Rex Chapman. He turned 52 on Saturday. … To Adrian “Odie” Smith. He turned 83 on Saturday. … To Preston LeMaster. He turned 36 on Saturday. … To former Auburn coach Jeff Lebo. He turned 53 on Saturday. … To Bill Busey. He turns 71 on Tuesday. … To Reggie Hanson. He turns 51 on Tuesday. … To former Tennessee coach Wade Houston. He turns 75 on Wednesday. … To former South Carolina coach Dave Odom. He turns 77 on Wednesday.


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Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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