UK Men's Basketball

Meet the Cats: Calipari teaching talented Briscoe to take out the trash

Roselle Catholic's Isaiah Briscoe #1 in action against Montverde Academy during a high school basketball game on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Kean, NJ.  Montverde won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
Roselle Catholic's Isaiah Briscoe #1 in action against Montverde Academy during a high school basketball game on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Kean, NJ. Montverde won the game. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan) AP

Freshman Isaiah Briscoe intends to prove this season that a new Cat can learn new tricks. Or, if you prefer, un-learn an old trick.

When asked this pre-season about being voted the best trash talker by AAU players, Briscoe recoiled.

"That was my high school stage," he said. "Now, I'm kind of trying to control my game."

Assistant Coach Kenny Payne is heading Kentucky's effort to transform Briscoe from gabby guard to stealth star.

"I've had a lot of talks with Coach Kenny Payne," Briscoe said. "He's just telling me to remain humble. Let your game do the talking. So I've been working on that."

Payne's background gives him credibility. He was a heralded high school player before playing for the University of Louisville. Then he played in 10 professional leagues, including four seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers.

So while Briscoe could not pinpoint exactly why UK wanted him to eliminate trash talking from his game, he will try to fulfill the request.

"Why not?" he said. "Coach Kenny Payne knows. He's been here a long time, so I trust him. That's what I'm going to do. I'll remain humble. I'll let my game do the talking."

Briscoe's game has been an eloquent spokesman. As a high school junior and senior, he led Roselle Catholic to New Jersey's Non-Public B championship. In 2014-15, he averaged 20.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists and was named a McDonald's All-American.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari, hardly Silent Cal himself, also recoiled when asked about Briscoe's reputation for flapping his wings and talking trash.

"He won't play that way here," Calipari said. "So I'm not worrying about it. He's going to be fine."

Briscoe seemed unsure about exactly why UK coaches want him to be the model of decorum. When asked if the UK coaches did not want to agitate opponents, he said, "I don't know about that. Maybe. I don't know."

Apparently, that is exactly the reason. Calipari made it clear he is still mindful of how playing Kentucky can bring out the best in opponents.

"This stuff we do here, you don't have to add any fuel to the fire," the UK coach said. "You don't have to say anything. You talk with your game because every game you play is somebody's Super Bowl."

Calipari deflected follow-up questions as unimportant, even irrelevant to the stoicism he wants to see in Briscoe.

"He's already starting to change," Calipari said in early September. "I'm pretty happy with how he's doing. But he's got a ways to go. Like he's never been in anything like this. You want him to be confident. He'll realize he's not a dumb kid."

How exactly a player works on not taunting an opponent (or fan or referee or sportswriter) is unclear. But Briscoe sounded confident that he can gain an appreciation for how silence can be golden.

"It's kind of easy to adapt," he said.

Briscoe acknowledged that it's not a subtle change he's attempting. It is a clear departure. Sophomore Tyler Ulis, something of a mentor, noted how Briscoe was talkative in early workouts this summer.

"He talks a lot of trash," Ulis said with a smile. "He tried it with me, but it doesn't work because we played one-on-one and I've been beating him pretty bad. I feel that's what fuels him."

Briscoe sounded convinced he will find new fuel.

"Now, high school is over with," he said. "That was my old days. Now, it's a different Isaiah."

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