UK Men's Basketball

Meet the Cats: Freshman E.J. Floreal very athletic, needs to improve basketball skills

UK guard E.J. Floreal, right, shared a laugh with fellow freshman Dominique Hawkins after he was the butt of a joke during a break at the team's annual photo day.
UK guard E.J. Floreal, right, shared a laugh with fellow freshman Dominique Hawkins after he was the butt of a joke during a break at the team's annual photo day. Jonathan Palmer

As the son of Olympians, E.J. Floreal benefits from a gene pool rich in athleticism. That both parents competed at the Olympic level in track and field — and not basketball — helps explain the perception that his skills need to catch up to his speed and quickness.

"Completely accurate," Floreal said of that assessment. "I'm athletic. I feel I can compete with anybody on this team athletically, in my opinion. ... I think they'd agree with me.

"But I'd also have to say my skills aren't where they need to be, especially right now, to contribute to this team."

A serious injury also helps explain why Floreal's basketball skills lag behind his ability to run and jump.

"I tore my ACL when I was in the eighth grade, and that held me back for a couple years," he said, "When I had surgery, I had to sit out. I really didn't feel like myself till probably my junior or senior year. I wasn't able to work on my skills like these other guys did."

Floreal, the son of UK track coach Edrick Floreal, finished his high school career at Dunbar. He saw walking on the UK basketball team as an optimal opportunity for skill development.

"I just feel this is exactly what I wanted," he said, "probably more than I wanted."UK's eight McDonald's All-Americans give Floreal an up-close look at what it takes to be an elite player.

"I'm learning . . . the type of drive I need and the type of skills they have," he said. "I always thought I was a hard worker. I always thought I pushed myself. But when I came here, I realized it wasn't as much as I thought. My drive is much higher now. My drive to be a competitor and reach my full potential has really risen."

Floreal (pronounced Floor-ree-al) acknowledged a wow factor that comes with being on this season's Kentucky team.

"It is crazy to think you're on a team with this much talent and has this much potential ... ," he said. "Sometimes I sit there and I'll be, like, I can't believe this is our team. It's just a blessing to be on this team and learn from all these great players and coaches."

In high school, Floreal got a taste for this kind of competition when he played against such heralded prospects as future UK teammate Marcus Lee and Arizona-bound Aaron Gordon.

His parents encouraged Floreal to follow their example and compete in track and field.

"Basketball is just what to do, and I feel I can be really good at it once I get everything down," he said.

"I guess part of it, you could say, is I wanted to venture out and do my own thing. Every kid wants to be better than their parents. And every parent wants their kid to be better than them. And as much as I probably could have run track, I really did want to be a basketball player."

Simply put, he found basketball more thrilling.

"Basketball just really gets me, I guess you could say, like hyped up and really excited," he said. "Before the game, I'm really excited to play. And after the game, I'm really excited about the next one."

By all accounts, this coming Kentucky season figures to be an adrenalin rush.

E.J. Floreal

Uniform number: 24

Height, weight: 6-3, 195

Position: Guard

Class: Freshman

Hometown: Lexington, Ky.

High school: Paul Dunbar

Twitter: @BouncyE_24

Online: Watch a video interview with E.J. Floreal.

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