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Wildcats talk upcoming season, team chemistry, defining roles & more

These Cats really like each other.

Tres Terrell - Sea of Blue

The new college hoops season is upon us, and it figures to be another fun ride for the Kentucky Wildcats.

After going to the Elite Eight or further in eight of the last 10 seasons under John Calipari, the Cats could get off to another fast start to the new decade. With a UK team that has a great blend of returning veterans and incoming talent, this should be another fun season that culminates in a deep postseason run.

On Tuesday, the Wildcats met with the media to preview the upcoming season. Here is a recap of everything they had to say via UK Athletics and our own Greg Goins and Tres Terrell.

#14, Brennan Canada, Fr., G

On the competitive nature of practice …

“Practice has been very competitive. Our chemistry is really good as a team, which is making practice a lot more challenging. We go in there every day and go as hard as we can.”

On being at the University of Kentucky …

“It’s great competition, playing against five-stars every day. It’s great to be here, I’m happy to be here. I’m ready to get the season started, and I think everyone else is, too.”

#0, Ashton Hagans, So., G

On what the team can improve in practice …

“Talking more while being aggressive. We’re working hard on these things right now. It will all come together. The season is right around the corner. We’re getting ready.”

On defining leadership …

“Being vocal, showing the guys the right way. There is no wrong way to go out here on the court. Cal is going to let you mess up, you just have to show him that you’re out here fighting and that you want it more than the next person.”

On facing Tyrese Maxey

“He’s good. He’s getting me better, I’m getting him better. I know we’re going to go out there and compete. I, Tyrese, (Immanuel) Quickley and Johnny (Juzang) go at it and argue every day in practice. We’re just trying to make each other better and get ready for the season.”

#1, Nate Sestina, Gr., F

On his weight transformation …

“I came in off a foot injury, so I was coming in a little bit unhealthy. We got our bodyfat tested and weighed in. I talked to Rob (Harris), Monica (Fowler) and Taylor at the (Nutrition Training Lab) about what I need to do to get my body to where it needed to be. I worked really hard all summer with Rob and in the kitchen with Monica and Taylor. Once I was able to start running I was able to lose a lot of weight, and I feel good. It’s not like I feel light or I feel weak. I feel the best I’ve ever felt, and I played college basketball for four years, and I haven’t felt this good, so I’m feeling pretty confident.”

On how physical the team will be this year …

“For us to be the team I want us to be, we need to rebound and defend. I think that everyone on our team is a physical specimen in their own respect, and I think that for us to really go where we want to go, I think that we need to be physical. So far in the five or six practices that we’ve had, we really have shown that.”

On being a veteran and leader …

“I think that being a veteran guy and playing college basketball for four years has really helped me out. Just talking through everything you do, even if you’re on the sidelines. Talk through and help the other guys so they can see what it’s like to communicate. Showing the difference between communicating and not communicating and the difference between if you communicate if the drill is great, and if you don’t, the drill is terrible.”

#4, Nick Richards, Jr., F

On looking forward to the season …

“I’m more excited to start the season, you know. One of the goals when I came in was to win a national championship, and that’s one of my goals this season. I don’t feel any pressure at all. I know I have a good team that’s behind me. I know I can play basketball, and it’s just me stepping on the court to prove to everyone that I can play.”

On having a defined role on the team …

“It helps to know that I have a coach that has confidence in me and that I have a coaching staff that is helping me get better every day. Either way, coaches tell me in practice, ‘Stick to what we tell you to do but also try to work on your game, as well,’ and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

On being a leader on the team …

“It’s a great thing. I just have to set an example for the younger guys and show them how it works here. People say it’s a hard time trying to figure out our coach’s system and they never really had veterans around to explain it to them, so I’m just happy to be one of those veterans that can help these guys.”

#2, Kahlil Whitney, Fr., F

On getting ready for Big Blue Madness …

“I am pretty excited. I came in last year and watched as a senior committed to coming to Big Blue Nation. It was amazing. I have never seen that many fans in my life. Seeing the fans changed me, coming through that tunnel and watching how much passion those fans had was pretty great. I am looking forward to this Big Blue Madness and looking forward to winning the dunk contest. We are going to have some fun.”

On his adjustment to the new players and the new style …

“I am a very passionate player. Winning is everything to me. I am going to leave it all on the floor. I pretty much do everything from rebounding to scoring. My biggest thing for me this year is to be one of the best defensemen in the country and to win.”

On Kentucky living up to the expectations …

“(Kentucky) definitely has met the expectations, and more. Coach Cal told us when he recruited us that it was going to be hard. Day in and day out it, is a grind.”

On the team’s chemistry …

“We are pretty close. We do everything together. I see no flaws, and off the court our bond is amazing.”

#13, Riley Welch, Jr., G

On his contribution to the team …

“I want to do everything I can to help the team win. We have a lot of young guys on the roster and Nate (Sestina) and I have a little more college experience. However, the other guys have a super high level of experience with Team USA and McDonald’s All American. This is their first time, a lot of them, going through the preseason practice schedule which is a different beast. You have more ups and downs and face more adversity, and you get more attention than in high school. We are trying to accomplish something in April, not accomplish something in October. I am here to help.”

On where basketball has taken him …

“My freshman year I was at UC Irvine right about an hour south of Los Angeles. My sophomore year I was in Palm Desert, California. Basketball has taken me everywhere and I am super excited to be here.”

On being ready for the Kentucky basketball experience …

“In my experience, I did not experience the same amount of attention. Kentucky is a different beast. I have grown up around basketball. I know my teammates and the coaching staff here get a lot of attention. I just want to support them. I know I am not the star of the show and here to help.”

#10, Johnny Juzang, Fr., G

On being a Los Angeles native and first Kentucky player of Asian descent …

“Wow, I didn’t even know that now that I think about it, but yeah that’s awesome. There aren’t a lot of guys who come from the west coast even, so it’s nice to break that stereotype and represent my city. It’s always good to all that support, especially from my mom’s side, my grandma and all. It’s starting to come full circle.”

On playing collegiate-level basketball …

“I love it. It’s an incredible feeling, like every day we’re blessed with such an amazing opportunity, and I think we all feel the same way. Knowing the position that I’m in is really an inspiration. It just keeps you going and shows you what’s possible. I think that us being around each other, there’s such a talented group of guys always pushing each other and competing against each other, I couldn’t have asked for a better spot.”

On who he tries to model his game after …

“My trainers are super helpful. They’re back in L.A. but we break down a lot of film. Offensively, we’ll look at Devin Booker and Tyler Herro, who are probably my two big guys that we’ve looked at film from and I’ve learned a lot from them.”

#3, Tyrese Maxey, Fr., G

On his team role …

“I’m a natural born leader so that’s easy. But seriously, it’s very important to have strong team leaders. I’d say a person that really helps me is Nate Sestina. He has a lot of college experience, just giving me pointers on what to say to the guys and just get the floor moving.”

On smiling often …

“I think it’s just a mix of my mom and my dad. It’s the way they raised me to be. If you wake up and get another chance at life, there’s no reason to be upset. So, I’m always happy. On top of that, I’m doing what I love every day, which makes it a lot better.”

On Coach Calipari possibly playing three guards …

“If that’s what Coach Cal decides to do, then we’re going to go out there and try to execute whatever he needs us to do. We’ll find a way to get it done.”

#23, EJ Montgomery, So., F

On being more physical this season …

“Last year, that was the main thing I was focused on. But this year, I’ve been in the weight room a lot with Robert (Harris), and that’s been my main focus, just getting more physical and staying consistent and stuff like that. But this year, I’m definitely going to be ready.”

On what he learned from watching PJ Washington last season …

“Just how hard he went in everything he did and how his body changed over the summer.”

On this season’s focus …

“Just staying in the gym and having my confidence up. Just know what I can do and just get more physical.”

#21, Zan Payne, R-Fr., G/F

On how practices have been going …

“It’s getting real competitive. Everybody’s fighting for their position on the team, so it is going to be real competitive all year for minutes and everything.”

On his health and knee …

“I’m doing way better than last year. I’ve lost a couple of pounds, my knee is fully recovered, and I should be back out on the court in a couple weeks.”

On the difference between last season and this season …

“Kind of similar. A lot of people on this team are really good, so people are going to be playing really competitive for a spot and a lot of minutes. (The team) always had a good depth, so I feel like everybody has to play hard to earn their position.”

#5, Immanuel Quickley, So., G

On what he has changed in the offseason ...

“I’ve been working on my body, changing a lot of parts of my game, just working to be the all-around best player I can be. That’s why you come to Kentucky, so you can play and practice against the best. My mindset has changed. Like last year, playing against guys like Tyler (Herro), Keldon (Johnson) and PJ (Washington) and all them, my confidence has increased. Knowing I can play against them, I know I can play against anyone.”

On how you feel about your performance last season ...

“Pretty good, but you know, you can always do better. But this year, I think people will see a lot of different things from me. I’m a lot more aggressive, more consistent from the field and more comfortable. I’m coming in knowing what I need to do.”

On the biggest differences from the team last year to now ...

“It’s kind of early to say right now. I’d say right now, we just need to get to know each other a little more. Last season we had the Bahamas trip before the season, so coming in, we were close already. But you know, this team I think can be really special, as well.”

On Nate Sestina as a teammate ...

“Nate is the best teammate I’ve ever played with, and I’ve been on a lot of teams and around a lot of players like on Team USA Basketball, and Nate is the best. On the court he is always talking, off the court he is always talking. He made me breakfast one time, and he has taken me out to lunch. Best teammate I’ve ever played with.”

#11, Dontaie Allen, Fr., G

On his recovery …

“It’s going good. I’m at the end of the process, so it should be sometime a little later, but in the beginning of the season.”

On knee recovery …

“It feels good. I woke up this morning and thought, ‘Man, I’m trying to dunk.’”

On his injury …

“I think that anytime things like that happen with a car wreck and being off the court watching games, I think you grow on and off the court. From the off the court perspective, you see how guys move and their tactics.”

#12, Keion Brooks Jr., Fr., F

On the team …

“We have a lot of interchangeable parts. In practice, we’re guarding all types of different people during the day to challenge us to see how we do. Coach Calipari has a good problem on his hands how he can move us all around.”

On being physical …

“I think we still have a ways to go with physicality, especially myself. I’m not afraid of contact or anything like that, I’m just light. I do the best I can to throw my little scrawny shoulders around. But I feel like we’re going to get there though, it’s early.”

On John Calipari’s creativity …

“I’ve always made sure that I can be put in different places because if you play multiple positions they make sure you’re on the floor, so I’m just happy and eager to see what he does with me. He has a good track record with people like me, so I’m just eager to see what he does.”

On choosing Kentucky …

“Coach Calipari (is why he chose Kentucky), at the end of the day. I really had a lot of great schools I could have went to and great relationships with those coaches, but at the end of the day the conversations I had with Coach Calipari really aligned with what I wanted to do with my career. I feel like he is going to help me get to my dreams and my goals, so that’s why I chose Kentucky.”