UK Men's Basketball

Wynyard says competition at Kentucky pushing him to ‘another level’

UK’s Tai Wynyard, back row at left, joined his New Zealand teammates in their country’s native dance, the Haka, before playing the Philippines on Thursday.
UK’s Tai Wynyard, back row at left, joined his New Zealand teammates in their country’s native dance, the Haka, before playing the Philippines on Thursday.

New Zealander Tai Wynyard says he received a crash course in basketball intensity during his first few months at Kentucky.

He expects it to serve him well.

“The type of basketball over there is just another level — they push you to crazy expectations and the coaches are a lot more ... they get on you a lot more,” Wynyard said during an interview this week with the Stuff website in New Zealand. “I’m not saying that they don’t get on you here, but it’s a different type of workout over there.

“All the players really want to be there — there’s so much competition just for one spot. They really pushed me in training — they’d take me aside in scrimmages and just run and run and run me.”

Wynyard committed to the Wildcats last spring, then joined the UK team at the start of the second semester in December. He played in no games as a freshman, so he has four seasons of college eligibility remaining. Other than practicing with the team, Wynyard served mostly as a source of fascination for UK fans, who knew little more about him than that he was the son of world-champion woodchoppers. They also knew he was a big body on a UK bench that grew thin at times because of injuries and foul trouble and often turned to sports radio talk shows to urge Coach John Calipari to put Wynyard on the floor.

When asked about the 2016-17 UK team in a recent news conference, Calipari had this to say about Wynyard:

All the players really want to be there — there’s so much competition just for one spot. They really pushed me in training — they’d take me aside in scrimmages and just run and run and run me.

Tai Wynyard, on his first season at Kentucky

“He got better, but he has a ways to go. ... Eventually, Tai is going to be a good player here, but it will take him time. He’s not on the same path as some of these guys, but he’s physically tough and strong.”

The 6-foot-10 Wynyard will be competing for front-court minutes in 2016-17 with 6-9 senior Derek Willis, 7-foot sophomore Isaac Humphries and an incoming freshman trio of 6-9 Bam Adebayo, 6-10 Wenyen Gabriel and 6-11 Sacha Killeya-Jones.

Wynyard told the New Zealand website that he has his eyes on a future in the NBA, which he said he’s coming to learn is always possible at Kentucky.

“It’s a powerhouse at creating great talent quickly,” he said in the Stuff interview. “They do everything in their power to make you ready for the NBA or to win a championship. They get you more than ready for the NBA.”

Wynyard credited Steven Adams of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder for bringing visibility to athletes from New Zealand and hopes he can follow a similar path. The 7-foot Adams played in college for one season at Pittsburgh and now is a key piece for the Western Conference finalist Thunder.

For now, the 18-year-old Wynyard is focused on improving — and winning games at Kentucky.

“I’ll play any part I have to, as long as we win,” Wynyard told the New Zealand website.

Wynyard is doing some winning of his own this week, trying to lead New Zealand to a title for the second year in a row at the World Under-18 3-on-3 Basketball Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan.

New Zealand defeated the Philippines 21-11 and Spain 21-17 on its opening day of play Thursday. After the first two games, Wynyard, who was MVP of the event last year, was high scorer in the tournament with 20 points.

Wynyard’s Kiwis conclude pool play with games Saturday against Hungary and Brazil.

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