Some fans believed late-arriving Tai Wynyard, the son of a world-champion lumberjack, could give Kentucky a much-needed credible presence around the basket last season.
Curiously, Wynyard, who joined the Kentucky team as a freshman at the end of the fall semester, never played. On Wednesday, he said UK Coach John Calipari wanted to put him in a game.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know,’” Wynyard said. “‘I want to save my eligibility.’
“I didn’t feel I was ready that year. ... I wanted my game to get as good as it can get before I start playing, and save my eligibility and have four more years.”
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When asked how Calipari reacted to his taking the prudent long view of his college career, Wynyard said, “He was, like, ‘Oh, you don’t want to play?’ And I was, like, ‘No, no. It’s not like that. I want my eligibility.’”
Wynyard, listed at 6-foot-10 and 255 pounds, said he did not know how to respond — in part because Calipari surprised him by saying at halftime that he wanted him to play.
“What do I say?” Wynyard said. “It was kind of a tough question to answer.”
Wynyard said his conditioning lagged behind his UK teammates. Plus, he had to adapt to a different style of basketball.
“It’s not as much running,” he said of basketball in his native New Zealand. “They make us run, but not like here. It’s a little bit different back home. The game is a little more grounded. Not as many people can jump high.”
Wynyard did not play last season. But he spoke optimistically about contributing next season.
“I’ve gotten a lot more athletic over the summer,” he said. “I’ve been working on my game a lot more. On my post moves.”
Isaiah Briscoe said freshman guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk can provide “a lot of athleticism” next season.
“We’ve been playing pickup,” he said. “They’ve been great. All the freshmen are playing well. But Fox and Malik have been playing really well.”
But when Wynyard was asked about freshman big man Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, he looked to a UK staffer standing nearby. Wynyard’s facial expression seemed to be asking if it was OK to talk about freshmen.
Then he said, “I don’t have any impression yet.”
OK, a reporter said, does Adebayo pass the eye test?
“He’s a big guy,” Wynyard said. “His shoulders are huge. Obviously, his physical attributes are just crazy.”
When asked whether the UK coaches used Derek Willis’ public intoxication as a cautionary tale, Briscoe said, “We’re all still growing up. We’re still maturing.
“What happened with Derek, that’s him. That’s personal to him. I still have his back 100 percent. I’m sure the whole team does also.
“Derek’s a great guy. He’s actually one of my favorites on the team. ... He made a mistake. He has to deal with it.”
Briscoe and Buddy
Among the NBA teams that reportedly had Briscoe in for workouts were the Spurs, Clippers, Lakers, Nets and Hawks.
The reaction Briscoe received included this: “Going back to school and showing I can shoot consistently wouldn’t hurt me at all.”
Briscoe did not embrace the example of Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, who shot poorly as a freshman and eventually became a record-setting shooter.
“I don’t think I’m a bad shooter,” Briscoe said. “This was the first time I struggled shooting the ball.
“I don’t compare my journey to no one else’s,” Briscoe added.
▪ Wynyard spoke of how candid Calipari can be. “He’s just really honest with you, which is amazing,” he said. “You don’t get that from many coaches. They kind of sugar-coat things. But he is just straight-up with you, which is a great attribute.”
▪ Senior-to-be Dominique Hawkins was supposed to meet with the media Wednesday. But a scheduling conflict prevented Hawkins from attending, UK said.