clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Jai Lucas introductory press conference recap

New, comment

Lucas discussed his new role, UK’s talented backcourt trio, recruiting, and more!

Jai Lucas UK Athletics

After 13 years, the Kentucky Wildcats finally landed Jai Lucas.

After missing out on the former McDonald’s All-American in the 2007 class, Lucas accepted a deal last week to become Kentucky’s new recruiting coordinator after a seven-year stint with the Texas Longhorns.

On Wednesday, Lucas had his first meeting with local media via Zoom. He discussed nearly picking the Wildcats in 2007, his new role in helping take Kentucky recruiting to a new level, and his excitement for the talented backcourt trio of Terrence Clarke, Devin Askew and Brandon Boston.

“I can’t imagine there is a better freshman trio than that three right there, so I’m really excited about the opportunity to be around them and get to work with them to help them grow,” said Lucas.

Here is a recap of everything Lucas had to say via UK Athletics:

On his recruitment to Kentucky as a high school player and how close he was to being a Wildcat …

“I was coming. I was coming to Kentucky until Coach (Tubby) Smith left and took the Minnesota job. That kind of left me in scramble mode because I had made my mind up for months and that’s how I kind of ended up at Florida. They were the next school to call me at the McDonald’s (All American) Game, so I kind of ended up with them. They had the momentum with Billy Donovan and winning two national championships. This place has left an impact on me ever since I took a visit and just through the whole recruiting process. If you’re about basketball and everything that comes with it and the whole experience of college basketball, it’s hard to say no to Kentucky.”

On his thoughts on the players’ Black Lives Matter video and the reaction to it …

“I think the video was amazing. I’ve started to meet the players and get to know them, but I just think for them to have that message and do it to together is a big statement on its own. I think the biggest thing with everything that is going on in society and in the country is that people need to come together to have communication, to have conversations whether you’re for it or against it. I think if you are a Kentucky fan, if you’re a fan of whatever university you are a part of it and your team has a message that they want to be heard and spoke about, I think that they should at least have the opportunity to just come and listen to them and see what they have and their concerns. That’s how the family and the community comes together through conversation, through communication.”

On two things that the fan base may not know about him …

“That’s a good question. I’m a people person. I love people. I will never not talk to anybody and not say hello, not have a conversation with anybody. So, if anybody sees me or anything, you can come up and say hello or whatever. I’m not standoffish at all. I love people. The second part is that I really love my job and what I do. My opportunity to impact young men who I see a lot of myself in and things that I’ve been through and to be able to play basketball and my experiences, that’s probably my favorite part about coaching and being around these kids. Just being able to give them messages that I could have had or at least could have helped me when I was their age.”

On if he remains in contact with Patrick Patterson

“We’ve stayed in contact. I see him every now and then. When he was with the (Houston) Rockets, they used to have training camp in Austin (Texas), so we would always connect when he came in there. We talk through social media every now and then. We were really close during the recruiting process, especially down the stretch. I would say that we probably communicated about it every day, especially down the stretch. But we were really tied together because a lot of schools, two main schools Florida and Kentucky, when they were recruiting us. I think the biggest thing about it was, down the stretch we communicated a lot and when I had decided – I believe that I decided before him, maybe – and I think after that I really tried to push him to come with me.”

On if he’d head from Patterson since joining the UK staff …

“Yeah, I got a message. I think it was the same message that he put under the school’s Instagram account. He texted me and said, ‘You’re finally doing the right thing. It may be years later, but welcome to the family.’ So, it has been really exciting. I have had a bunch of messages from former players, and just people tied with the university and I’ve been very, very, very appreciative of that.”

On playing against his former coach in Rick Barnes at Tennessee …

“I’m excited because he’s done a great job at Tennessee. He is somebody that I still communicate with a lot. I talked to him about this whole process when I was deciding what I was going to do in coming to Kentucky and stuff like that. He helped me tremendously here recently and he’s just somebody that I know I can always call and I know that he will always pick up the phone. Playing against his teams, you know what they’re going to bring. I’m excited about that competition. A lot of people who are on staff were on the Texas staff with me. So that’s exciting to see them as well.”

On being recruited by Coach Cal to join the staff at Kentucky …

“This place recruits itself. If you are passionate and want to be at the highest level there is in basketball, especially college basketball, I mean, it’s hard to say no to Kentucky in general. It doesn’t matter if it is as a recruit or coming back as any staff position. Just talking to Coach Calipari, who I’ve followed forever, and I know everything he is about, he’s been a family friend for a while with him and my dad. So, a lot of the stuff that he preaches about and coaches is how I was raised through my dad. He is a truth teller. He’s going to tell you the truth and he’s going to try and get the most out of you. So, he is somebody who I knew I would automatically connect with.”

On his recruiting philosophy …

“My philosophy and really the biggest thing is building relationships with the recruit, his family and the people around him. That’s the main thing because most of the people you’re able to recruit here at Kentucky are going to be high-level players and could be able to go anywhere in the country. You have to be able to get them to trust you and understand that when they come here that they will be somebody. That the staff will have their back and will be able to push them, but also be there to listen to them and talk to them and let them know that we’re here to help you completely as a whole person, not just as a basketball player. I think the biggest thing here that is a little bit different than everywhere else is that most of the kids want to be NBA players. This is the closest experience to being that. I think that is one of the advantages here, especially during the recruiting process. You’re getting ahead of the curve here with what you’re going to experience at the pro level and at the NBA.”

On what it was like going head-to-head against Kentucky as a recruiter and how did that affect his thoughts on the job …

“When you’re going against Kentucky in the recruiting process, I had it happen a couple of times. For me – at least on my end from where I was at Texas – you have to kind of draw a different kind of contrast. You can’t sell a lot of the things that Kentucky has. Being at Texas you’re able to sell some of them. It’s kind of like I stated earlier, a big part of what I was trying to sell was just the relationship piece with me and Coach (Shaka) Smart, who was my boss back then, just tying to do that. A couple of guys like Greg (Brown) or even someone like Myles Turner and Jarrett Allen and people like that, you have to kind of tie it back to that part of it. When you go head-to-head, straight up as it is, it’s almost impossible win.”

On his thoughts about keeping politics out of sports and whether or not the reactions to the team’s video will cause negative recruiting …

“It’s not much of a concern from my part. I think for the players, it’s their message and what they wanted to put out. Our job as a staff is to support them and educate them. I think the message of what they were saying, I really, in my opinion at least, I think a lot of it really, it was not as political as it is being received. I think they were talking more so about themselves and their experiences as people that look like them. I think that’s a big part of it. The recruiting part of it, it kind of goes both ways because as a university, most of the kids on the team and most of the student-athletes are athletes of color. Those kids are watching to see what each university is doing and how they are responding to what is going on. And it is a big thing in the media eye right now. I think you just have to be educated in recruiting kids and telling them the lay of the land of what’s around them and being honest with them, letting them know that no matter what we are here to support you and protect you. That it’s not the opinion of everybody associated with the program or even with the state of Kentucky or anything; it’s just you’re going to have people who are going to have their opinion.”

On how recruiting has looked this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic preventing coaches from being on the road …

“The biggest thing is it is completely different than what you’ve experienced. Most college coaches are creatures of habit. So, a lot of college coaches love to see people in person. That’s a way to get a feel for actual size and height. And then, actually it’s also good to see how the players feel about you because you can tell if they’re looking over at you or the family’s waving at you and stuff like that. That’s a big part of it. But, a lot of the stuff is being streamed online. So that’s another good glimpse of watching that and just having a network of people that you trust. Being able to call them and ask, ‘What do you really think of this guy? How good is he really? What was he like in high school? How did his high school year go? Can I talk to his high school coach? Can I get film from high school? Stats?’ Stuff like that. You just have to do a little more digging than you usually do. It’s been pretty good.”

On what the one big misperception he’ll have to dispel about the UK program as he’s recruiting …

“I don’t think there is anything you really have to dispel with the program. They had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country last year so it’s pretty hard to say that things aren’t going as well. But I think the biggest thing is you have a shift. I think the big shift is just finding ways to use and continue to use social media. I think that’s the biggest presence right now. I think other schools who Kentucky usually competes against have done a good job as well, so I think figuring out how we can use that in a better way and enhance that. And I think a lot of recruiting is going to change here in the next couple of years with some of the rules and stuff passing with the NCAA, so it will be a whole different landscape probably this time next year.”

On what he thinks of Kentucky’s freshman class after recruiting some of those players …

“I mean, I think the guards in the backcourt with BJ (Boston) and Terrence (Clarke) and Devin (Askew)...I can’t imagine there is a better freshman trio than that three right there, so I’m really excited about the opportunity to be around them and get to work with them to help them grow. So, I know that, and then Isaiah (Jackson) is someone who just continues to get better. He’s going in the right direction. This is just the outside looking in. I haven’t been able to be in the gym with them yet. I’m excited about that. And then you have someone like Cam(‘Ron Fletcher), who is somebody who I think will develop as well to be a really good player. He’s got all the athletic traits and the size and the mentality and everything. This is a really good class. In all of college basketball, you’re only as good as your guards. Those three guards are pretty good so that’s always a good feeling.”

On how he is able to identify with the players in a different way as a younger guy than maybe some of the older coaches can …

“I think they’ve done a good job of building relationships with the players even with the age difference. I know that was a big thing just hearing how people talk about Coach (Kenny) Payne and what he was really good at. I feel like that’s something that I’m really good at. It’s kind of like I was saying earlier, with me playing at a similar level – Kentucky is at a different level than a lot of places – but playing at a similar level, being highly recruited, being a McDonald’s All American, understanding some of the pressures that come with that stuff, playing professionally, being in an NBA training camp, and growing up in NBA locker rooms and being around those experiences, it’s good perspective that I can give them of, ‘Hey, I know what you’re going through. I know what you’re thinking right now. Let this go. Let that go. Do this. Think about that.’ I think that’s the bigger thing is that I’m still not too far removed from playing and being closer to where they were. I think that’s something that I have that I can bring to the program.”

On how what his father, John Lucas, went through helped him grow into the person and professional he is …

“He’s molded me completely. Every lesson he has given me—when you’re younger and you’re going through it and he’s in the gym and yelling at you and stuff like that, you don’t really appreciate it then but you kind of understand it as you get older and become a father and stuff in what he was doing. So, I’m very appreciative of everything he’s done for me. The biggest thing he’s given me is that nothing is free. You have to work for everything. If you want something done, you can do it yourself. That is the biggest thing I’ve taken from him is just watching him get up at 5 o’clock every morning as long as I can remember and not coming home until 9 o’clock and he’s just out working and helping people and trying to get people to be better people. So that’s one thing I’ve really taken from him is tremendous work ethic.”

On if Coach Calipari recruited him out of high school and how that relationship has developed over the years …

“No, he didn’t recruit me at all. I had one conversation with him when I was transferring out of Florida, but he didn’t recruit me overall. Growing up, my dad would always work his—he had like a fantasy camp when he was at Memphis where he would have people come in. So, we would always go up to that. And then back then, they (Memphis) would always come and play Rice back when I think they were in Conference USA, if I’m not mistaken. We would always practice the day before. My relationship with him is through other people a lot. Dajuan Wagner was somebody who my dad drafted when he was in Cleveland, so going through that. Just little things like that through other people has been the bulk of our relationship.”

On what recruiting coordinator means to him and what that dynamic will be like for him and trying to help with recruiting when the Wildcats are already consistently right at the top annually …

“For me it’s just a way to help streamline everything with the staff. I understand by being an assistant coach before how hard it is to recruit, take care of the players on campus, get ready for games, scouting reports and stuff like that, so at least my job as I see it just how to streamline everything. So if it’s schedules or how we need to communicate with recruits, what games we need to go see, who Coach needs to be talking to, just kind of managing all that for the staff so I can take a little bit off their plates so they can focus on the guys. Your recruiting is only going to be as good as your team is. If you win the SEC championship and you’re playing for Final Fours, recruiting is going to be going pretty good. It’s like you said, they had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country last year, so I’m not trying to come in here and reinvent the wheel or anything like that, but if I can come in here and help streamline stuff and go more efficient and hopefully enhance some stuff over time as I get my feet under me, I think it will go pretty good.”