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Wildcats preview Alabama

Two of the best in the SEC clash in Lexington.

Kentucky v Vanderbilt Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats are starting to hit their stride, but they’ll face a big test Tuesday as Alabama comes to Rupp Arena.

Ahead of the game, senior center Olivier Sarr and freshman forward Isaiah Jackson met with the media to preview the game, as well as discuss the team’s decision to kneel during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s win over Florida.

Here is a recap of what they had to say via UK Athletics.

Olivier Sarr

On what the mood is in the locker room after three wins in a row …

“It feels better, you know. It feels great. We stayed positive during the tough time, but you can feel guys are feeling more confident. We are all feeling more confident, more comfortable. It just feels great.”

On the reaction to their decision to kneel at Florida …

“We understood that our gesture would have consequences. We just want people to understand. We knew that some people would be mad about what we did, but we just want people to understand that it’s a peaceful way to protest in the way that we can using our platform. We just want people to understand to raise awareness and that’s it.”

On what they were protesting against …

“I think our action speaks for itself. What happened in the past few day, few weeks and even during quarantine, we just want to show support for our community and raise awareness on the things that happened lately. It comes from a place of understanding peaceful conversations and being open-minded. That’s it.”

On if they talked about the possibility of there being negative reactions …

“We didn’t talk about it. Obviously we knew that people would react a certain way, but as always, you do something, you always have some people that are pleased and some people that aren’t. We just made our decision as a team, and most importantly, everyone was OK with it. That’s something we wanted to do. Unfortunately, some people are not happy with it, but like I said, we just want the best for everybody. We want peace and we want people to understand everybody.”

On if they plan to kneel again …

“We’ll see. We’ll see what we do for other games. Whether we do it once, twice or every time, our mind, our focus is on that gesture and towards these issues at all times.”

On if he could point to one specific phase of the game that’s helped this turnaround …

“I think execution. I think everybody can see that we’re executing way better. Our offense is looking way better. We’re sharing the ball. We’re having fun out there and it makes a huge difference in the game.”

On how important it was for the group to kneel together …

“I think it sends a big message. We’re a unit and that’s what we want this country to be. We are all together in it. I think what was really powerful was Coach doing it with us. Coach stood with us. He took it with heart. He did it for us, for the cause, and I think it’s just showing we’re all together in this even though some people might disagree. We just want to be treated equal. That’s the most important thing to get out of this really.”

On how his views have been adjusted by this coming from a different country in France to the U.S. …

“It’s totally different but not really at the same time. I think people here are more engaged. It helped me realize that I needed to do more with what I have, with the platform that I have, the opportunity that I have. I’m trying to learn and educate myself. It’s something that is not happening just in the U.S. I need people back home to understand that these issues are happening too in France. It’s not just in America. It’s not just something outside of the borders. It’s happening in your country whether you’re in France, in Europe, in the U.S. or other parts of the globe. You always have minorities that are being treated not as equal as other people. I’m in a position – we’re in a position – to raise awareness, and that’s what we’re trying to do, but it’s not just talking. We also need actions behind it.”

On John Calipari’s take when they told him they were going to do it …

“He was all for it. He asked us, ‘Do you want me to kneel with you guys?’ We said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I would do it.’ He would support whatever we do. That’s big. That’s really important.”

On someone saying that Calipari should have stood up to their idea …

“I mean, I didn’t understand exactly what you said, but what’s most important—I mean, don’t care about outside opinions of other people. We’re all in this together as a team. We count on everybody else. We count on everybody in this program. Whoever has other opinions, that’s OK. We all have an opinion. I’m just proud Coach stood with us.”

On the matchup with Alabama …

“We’re getting ready. Obviously, we’ll see and talk about it more at practice today, but they’re doing really good so far and it’s a great team. A lot of good players. We’ve got to be locked in on defense and lock in on the scouting report. We’ll get better until tomorrow for the game.”

On two teams facing each other early in the league schedule …

“It’s a great battle test. We’ve been good so far in the league and their team too. I think it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a war. It’s going to be a great test for us.”

On if the focus on the kneeling will be a distraction as they get ready for this game …

“Not at all. That’s part of what we do. We’re just locked in on what we’ve got to do. People talk outside. We just focus on the court and focus on what we’ve got to do to get ready for that game. I think guys are more than locked in and more than ready to play that game.”

Isaiah Jackson

On making a powerful statement at Florida and the social media reaction after …

“I’m not going to lie, I actually deleted social media. I just redownloaded it because yesterday was my birthday and I wanted to post a picture. But I really haven’t been feeding into the comments and stuff. But what everybody’s been saying is that there’s been some good and some bad comments. I mean, we’re just trying to make a peaceful protest. Trying to get through to everybody that we need equality just like everybody else. This is a great country. I just feel like and we feel like everybody. Like, minorities and stuff don’t have equal rights as everybody else. That’s why we protested and that’s why we kneeled. That’s a peaceful protest.”

On the events at the U.S. Capitol and if that had to do with them deciding to kneel …

“It was a couple of things. Like I saw the noose. That was just was out of pocket. That’s just something that people shouldn’t do. I feel like people have their own opinions, but that was just like, that was just out of pocket. Just breaking in is just crazy to me.”

On if the attention to their statement will be a distraction going forward for the team …

“I just feel like we’re going to block out the noise. We’ve been on a three-game winning streak and hopefully we can keep that going. We’ve been playing like perfect the last couple of games, I feel like. We’re just on a run right now, so we’re just going to try and keep that going.”

On if the team discussed the possibility of negative reaction before making their statement …

“With the world we’re living in now, I think everybody knew. At the end of the day, people are going to say what they want to say. Just like anybody can do what they want. It’s a free country. You can say what you want and do what you want. It’s like, all right, we already knew.”

On the importance of the team being unified in the statement …

“I feel like that sort of shows that we’re together as like we’re just a unit, a whole unit. Like even the coaches did it, so it just shows that we’re like unified. Every player gets where we’re coming from and what we’re protesting for. I mean, it shows on the court as well.”

On where he’s made the biggest strides on the floor and his thoughts on his put back dunk at Florida …

“Defense I feel like is one of the main things and blocking shots and rebounding. On the put-back, I would say that was one of my craziest ones.”

On the importance of the Alabama game …

“I feel like it’s very important. Every game that we’ve played this year was a war. So, it’ll continue on. This one is a war too. We’re preparing every day for practice and then practice to prepare for every team we face including Alabama. We’ll come in fighting.”

On the impact Keion Brooks Jr. makes on the team …

“It was amazing, man. That’s my guy. He went through it at the beginning of the year and I know it was hard for him not playing and stuff. I mean, he came out and balled. He did his thing. That’s what we wanted. That’s what we needed too. Like, that helped us a lot.”

On the biggest thing he’s learned from Brooks Jr. …

“His maturity. He’s very mature. Out on the court, it was during a game, like I was hyping him up and saying, ‘Do your thing.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to play every game like it’s my last.’ I felt that. Everything that he’s said, I feel like everything about him is mature. That’s what good leaders have, a maturity level that’s greater than everybody else’s.”

On what has helped the team click lately …

“I think we’ve just all bought in. Like everybody was tired of losing and we’ve just been working everyday in practice. Everybody’s been working and everybody has just finally bought in. It’s clicked and this is where we’re at. It’s just going to keep getting better.”