The Kentucky Wildcats project as one of the top teams in college basketball next year, and Isaiah Briscoe is a big reason why.
While the sophomore guard didn't become the electric scorer many envisioned, Briscoe did become a great defender, rebounder and finisher around the rim. He scored in double figures in 18 games while averaging 9.6 points, 5.3 boards and 3.1 assists per game.
Now, Briscoe hopes to become a bigger leader and contributor for a team likely to open the preseason as the No. 2 or 3 team in college hoops.
"I'm glad to be back," Briscoe said at a Wednesday meeting with the media. "With the new (NBA Draft entry) rule, I think I used it to the best of my ability. On the 25th (of May) I had a long conversation with Coach Cal and KP (Kenny Payne), and we all agreed it was best for me to come back to school."
Before Zay met with the media Wednesday, his father, George, talked to the Cats Pause about his son's decision to return to UK and what the NBA Draft process was like.
"The process works well. A lot of kids went back [to school] so it's working," George said. "Me and Cal got the same feedback. You won't be delusional. You'll know who you are."
George even admitted that had Zay gotten more interviews and workouts with teams, his decision could have been different.
"If he didn't have to decide by May 24 and it was extended a week or two more, it would have been interesting, but maybe it was too late to change people's minds," George said.
What really helped Isaiah improve his NBA stock in those draft workouts was his shooting ability on full display, at least the kind we saw of him in high school when he was a great shooter compared to his first year at UK.
"They didn't know he could shoot like that," George said. "He performed well against a lot of guys who are first rounders. A lot of times, he was the best player in the gym. The process was very positive because Isaiah played well and they saw the Isaiah they expected to see the whole time."
Now, here's a recap of everything Zay said Wednesday:
On if it was an easy decision or tough
"In a way it was kind of hard because I was doing so well in the workouts, but I think the conversation that me and KP had brought everything to the light and made it more obvious that it was good for me to come back to school."
On what Payne told him
"Mostly what he was talking about was security. I guess that's with me going in the first round, the security. It made a lot of sense. I want to feel secure. What he was saying was around the same time next year you should only want to focus on getting better. You don't want to worry about if you're going to get a guarantee contract or anything like that. So I think that played a key role into me coming back to school."
On what he was doing well in the workouts
On the feedback he got from NBA teams
"All the feedback was good. They said my shot was better than they thought, but going back to school and showing them that I can shoot consistently wouldn't hurt me at all."
On if he changed his shot or just put in additional work
"Just got in the gym and just continued to work."
On not getting an invite to the NBA Combine
"I thought I was going to the combine, but once I found out I wasn't I was still working out and still waiting on NBA teams to call and give me a full workout."
On how many workouts he had
"I think six. Six, yeah."
On being in his second year and leading the freshmen
"One, I just have to lead by example. That's one thing that's on and off the court. These freshmen came in and they look up to me - even some of the guys (who were here) last year look up to me and come up to me for questions and things like that. My main focus this year is lead a young group. Lead by example on and off the court."
On what De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk bring to the team
"A lot of athleticism. We've been playing pickup, and all the freshmen, I think, have been playing well, but Fox and Malik have been playing really well."
On his role next year
"Just running the team. That doesn't mean score all the points. Just make sure everything is in order, be a second coach on the court, build a better relationship with Coach Cal, and just lead the young guys."
On what he's told the young guys to expect
"Yeah, they don't know what to expect, but I tell them it's hard. If you love to work it shouldn't be hard for you at all. I enjoy working out. I enjoy getting better. Kentucky, to me, is just like - like any other workout, any other place I've been to work out - I just love getting after it."
On if his decision came down to the wire
"You can say that, but I think they were waiting for the deadline to actually have that talk with me, and once we had the talk it was a no-brainer that I wanted to come back to Kentucky, and I never had a problem with coming back to Kentucky to begin with."
On if he will have the ball in his hands more this year
"Yeah, I think so."
On how difficult it was to not be the primary ball handler last year
"It was difficult and it was a struggle for me at the beginning. I had to get used to it. Not too many people can do it, but I accepted the role I wasn't used to. As a winner, I just want to do whatever it takes on my team to win. They needed me to play defense, grab rebounds, and that's exactly what I did."
On how much he thinks people didn't get to see the real Isaiah Briscoe last season
"I don't think anybody's seen the real Isaiah, but I'm still in the gym working, trying to become a better player each and every day."
On if the young guys have asked him about Coach Cal and trusting him
"Everybody has their own experience with Cal. Mine is different from Tyler (Ulis'). Tyler's is different from Jamal (Murray's). Mine will be different from the freshmen this year.
"So, everybody has their own experience with Cal. Everybody trusts him. Everybody has something different to say about him, but one thing in common is everybody trusts him. He's a great guy."
On how he would describe his relationship with Cal
"We've actually, I think, our relationship has been a little better. We've been meeting probably like once a week. We'll text maybe twice a week just to make sure everybody's in check and everybody's doing what they're supposed to do, and he looks to me to make sure everybody's doing what they're supposed to do.
"I think he's trusting me a little more than he did last year, and I don't want to let him down so I'm just out here doing whatever I have to do to make sure the team is fine."
On this responsibility may help him down the road .
"Yeah, I think that that's key for a point guard. I think I have a lot of good attributes as a point guard, and leading is one of them. I'm very vocal, as you guys know from last year, so I think this year will be fun."
On how much he learned from Tyler Ulis last season
"A whole lot, and he (Tyler) made it easier for everybody else. We were with each other every day, so a lot of times - because I knew he was leaving, and just in case I had to stay back, I had to take a lot of things that he showed me.
"For the most part, just try to make everything easier. If a team has a run, I know the young guys are going to get rattled and everything like that, and just try to keep everybody calm and just lead the team."
On how hard his decision was with his NBA dream right in front of him
"I think my thing is I didn't want to rush it. I don't think that the NBA is going anywhere, and me coming back to Kentucky to develop another year as a person on and off the court will only help me."
On if he will watch the NBA Draft
"Yeah, I'll watch the draft because my brothers are in the draft, my teammates. I'm hoping they all get drafted where they want to get drafted, and yeah I'll be watching."