Going into his junior season, Tai Wynyard has the opportunity to have a legitimate role in the Kentucky frontcourt this year. With only Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Wenyen Gabriel, and PJ Washington joining him as frontcourt members, the junior center realizes the potential for his success.
Wynyard is one of the most experienced players on the team, but at 19 years old, he knows he still has a lot to learn.
“I’m still learning a lot of stuff and picking up on things every day,” he said.
Wynyard still considers himself one of the veterans on the team and is willing to help, but he says the freshmen have taken it upon themselves to learn and get used to life as a Kentucky Wildcat.
“I have to show them what to do off-court and on-court, drills, and that kind of stuff,” Wynyard said.” But I’m still young and I’m still learning myself. Coming here, they knew what they were getting themselves into, they knew what they wanted, so it’s not really much help needed from veterans. Everyone knows what they want and everyone’s working hard.”
Though he’s been around the program for two years, he’s still getting used to life in Lexington.
“A little bit more, but it’s never going to be home,” he said. “I’m so used to being home in New Zealand, and it’s a little different than Lexington. I’m getting used to it.”
Wynyard said it was great to see Calipari and two of his Wildcat teammates find success for Team USA at the FIBA U19 World Championships., along with catching up with some of his old buddies from New Zealand.
“It was a lot of fun, being able to play with all these guys that I haven’t seen in a long time. We had Coach Cal over there with PJ (Washington) and Hami(dou Diallo), so it was cool seeing them over there.”
The Wildcat center said he enjoyed getting a ton of games under his belt, and that it gave him the confidence he needed going into this season.
“Just being able to go out there and hoop,” he said. “I haven’t been able to go out and do that in a little while. I had played something crazy like 25 games or something like that while I was leading up to (the FIBA U19 Championships.) Being able to just get games under my belt just helped build my confidence a lot.”
Wynyard shared an interesting story about Calipari watching him in Egypt and the words of wisdom he gave following a rough half of basketball.
“The first game we came out and I played horribly in the first half. I had like two points and three fouls at the half, but then I had like 20 points in the second half and we ended up winning. After the game, Coach Cal came down and said, “This year we gotta work on foul trouble. We can not have you in foul trouble if you’re on the court.” So that’s definitely been a big focal point for me,” he said.
Other than foul trouble, Wynyard says his offseason development has focused on a wide variety of areas.
“I’ve been working on my all-around game,” he said. “Shooting, post-ups, defense, rebounding, everything. This year I’m going to be focused on rebounding and post-ups, that’s going to be my main key. Locking down whoever I’m playing defensively.”
Over the course of this offseason, Wynyard said he has worked to improve his body to prepare for his junior season.
“My body has changed a lot more,” he said. “I’ve lost a little bit of weight and put some muscle on. Going over to (Egypt) I was able to find myself and go back to the way I was playing before and got a lot of my confidence back.”
After a lot of work and the confidence boost, Wynyard knows he has the ability to be a big contributor for the Wildcats.
“Just being able to go out there and prove myself, knowing I can hoop. This is a lot of fun for me and I can’t wait for the season.”
Wynyard says the confidence he gained from playing in Egypt will translate onto the court next season.
“I’m going to be working my butt off this year. I know I’m going to have to go out and prove myself and do everything I was doing in the FIBA World Cup. I’m going to bring that confidence, energy, and will to win that I got over there.”
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