The coronavirus has made the Summer of 2020 very different for the Kentucky Wildcats’ basketball team. The pandemic delayed the players’ arrival on campus until late June, and then the coaches were not allowed to interact with their players.
That changed Monday, as the coaches are now able to get to work with the new group of Wildcats. Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus went on Kentucky Roll Call Tuesday morning to talk about the situation saying, “It was a little bit like Christmas morning yesterday around here.”
“The crazy thing is we hadn’t even been able to see them,” Justus said. “They moved in, you spend all this time recruiting guys and especially for us, with ten new guys coming to campus, we weren’t even able to see them, much less work them out.”
Although the coaches are now allowed to interact with the players, they are still limited to just 4 hours a week, so they are focusing on individual drills and skill development. Even just that is a great way for the coaches to start developing chemistry with their players.
“It’s such a big deal to go away to college and have your son be away from home and enter into something new, much less during a pandemic like we got going on here, and us as coaches were not allowed to see the guys,” said Justus.
“So yesterday was the first day we were even allowed to see them in person since they’ve been here 18, 19 days ago. It was a lot more about that for us and for our coaching staff. It was just good to see the guys, check in with them, and make sure everybody was doing well. It was good. It was a fun day yesterday. I think everybody was happy and excited to be around each other, which was nice.”
Due to the limited time, Wake Forest transfer Olivier Sarr and Creighton transfer Davion Mintz are playing a very important role for the group of young Cats as they have a combined seven years of college experience, only three of which is from returning players Keion Brooks Jr. and Dontaie Allen, the latter of which didn’t play at all last year while redshirting.
So yeah, having two very experienced vets in Mintz (97 career games) and Sarr (85) is a really big deal for the young Wildcats.
“I think what he (Sarr), as well as Davion Mintz brings to the this team right now is two veteran guys who have had a lot of practice,” said Justus. “Our team needs to learn how to practice, learn how to work, and learn how to compete every single day before we can even think about being a good basketball team against competition.”
Sarr specifically who can drastically improved Kentucky’s outlook for next season if he receives a transfer waiver from the NCAA.
“I think with Olivier, he was obviously well coached by Danny Manning and the staff at Wake Forest, and he’s had success at a very high level,” Justus said. “He’s a young man that’s driven. He wants to be better. He’s a guy that’s really excited to be here and anytime you have guys, whether they’re incoming freshmen or transfers, you want guys that are really two feet on the boat, really bought in. I think when guys are really bought in and they’re really focused on basketball and getting better, they have a great experience here and we ultimately have a lot of fun coaching those guys.”
The coaches will be limited to four hours a week with the team until October, so until then, it will be up to guys like Sarr and Mintz to show the new guys the college basketball ropes.
It also helps that the Cats returned Brooks, who already has a year with Coach Cal and his staff under his belt. S the sophomore forward already knows what Cal expects out of his guys, and he’ll have to act like an upperclassmen despite only heading into his sophomore season.
“You come here to get better,” said Justus. “This is about competing; this is about pushing yourself. This is about the ultimate pursuit of becoming your best version.”
Having veteran leadership is only going to have this team even more prepared when the time finally comes to tipoff the 2020-21 college basketball season.