UK Men's Basketball

Meet the Cats: Floreal awaiting opportunity to shine, will 'be ready for that moment'

EJ Floreal
said having pro athletes for parents helps maintain perspective.
EJ Floreal said having pro athletes for parents helps maintain perspective. Herald-Leader

Seven times in a conversation lasting seven minutes or so, EJ Floreal said he merely wants to help. This modest ambition gains poignancy when you consider that in his first two seasons for Kentucky he's played a total of 24 minutes, scored three points and grabbed two rebounds.

Apparently, UK Coach John Calipari has emphasized that Floreal is making a contribution.

"I mean, Cal has told me that even in the past, when I've felt like I haven't been able to help this team that much, that I've helped them so much," Floreal said. "It's stuff that people don't see.

"I don't need people to see it. I just want to make an impact on this team."

A year earlier, Floreal drew comfort from someone seeing it. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas watched Floreal work out prior to UK games in the Bahamas, and noted the player's improvement.

"For somebody like Jay Bilas, who's watched the best of the best back to LeBron (James) in high school or even Kobe (Bryant) in high school before that, for him to say I look good and I'm improving and he's pulling for me, that was really big," Floreal said this time last year.

Entering the 2015-16 school year, Floreal offered a more philosophical take on his place in the UK pecking order.

"It's a sacrifice," he said. "Everybody has to sacrifice. It's a sacrifice I was willing to make for not only the betterment of myself as a player and as a man, but the betterment of the team."

Not that Floreal, now a junior, has resigned himself to being, at best, a practice player.

"Of course, I want to get into the games and play," he said. "I mean, that's what every kid wants to do. If they tell you otherwise, that's not true. I've been working really hard to, hopefully, get that opportunity. And if that opportunity comes, I don't want to put the blame on anyone but myself if I'm not ready. Then, that's on me."

You don't have to search long to find moments when little-used players found themselves face to face with the chance to help. Most recently, Jon Hood came off the bench in the first half at Mississippi State in 2014 to spark a listless UK team.

"I always think, and for the past two years I've said the same thing: a possibility, a moment could happen," Floreal said. "And I've just always worked really hard to be ready for that moment whenever it comes."

Hood as hero did not stun Floreal. "I knew how hard 'Hoodie' worked," he said. "And I knew what he could do. And he was ready for his moment."

Much the same occurred in the opening game of the 2012-13 season when — who's he? — Jarrod Polson surprised Maryland with a 10-point, three-assist, no-turnover performance. In his first two seasons, Polson had scored a total of seven points and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1-to-8.

"It is a motivator," Floreal said of these starbursts.

While he prepares for fate to afford him a similar chance, Floreal said he continues to try to improve. "The skills are better," he said.

No doubt it helps to be from a family of athletes who know the ups and downs of competing. His father, Edrick, and mother, LaVonna, were Olympians.

"It definitely helps that I have a background of professional athletes in my parents," Floreal said. "They're able to give me a lot of wisdom, a lot of guidance that maybe a lot of other parents wouldn't necessarily know."

One such moment came when Floreal tore an anterior cruciate ligament while at Lexington's Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. "I was really discouraged and thought my dreams were just over," he said. "And my dad told me: stuff happens. You just have to keep working hard. If this is what you really want to do, then you're going to do it."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader