One thing Kentucky lacks right now is toughness. Alex Poythress did his best to shore up the Cats’ problems inside last night with a double double, but there’s no denying that Kentucky needs a stronger presence down low. Fortunately, help is on its way from New Zealand in the form of 6’10” 263 lbs. power forward Tai Wynyard.
“Wait, isn’t Tai supposed to just be a project this season? Isn’t there even a chance he might redshirt?”, you ask? Yes, that’s what we all assumed until John Calipari himself mentioned Tai last night during his press conference as a potential answer to UK’s woes in the paint.
“He’s 6′-10″, 260,” Cal said, making this face:
“Could he be the answer to toughness?” Cal asked. “Then the other guys got to take a back seat? I don’t know until we get him here and we let him get in there and mix it up.”
Before you stop what you’re doing to learn the Haka dance, here’s a disclaimer: we really don’t know that much about Wynyard. In fact, I spent the day making the list of things we do know.
The first game he will be eligible for is Ohio State
Wynyard will arrive on campus next Friday, the day before Kentucky plays Ohio State in Brooklyn. I doubt he’ll really even get to practice before that game, but Calipari said there’s a chance he’ll play against Louisville.
“He could redshirt, but the plan is, let’s slide him in there and go,” Cal said. “I’ve got to have staff working with him over Christmas. Then we have two practice days and we play Louisville. Not probably the ideal game to shove him in, with two days practice. But then let’s just see where he is and let’s, we’ll figure it out.”
Again, in the oversaturated world of basketball recruiting, it’s hard to believe, but Calipari stressed that he really doesn’t know what to expect with Tai.
“I don’t know. I don’t have any idea. I’ll see him. I watched him on tape, but I haven’t seen him in person. Haven’t seen him against our guys. We’ll see what he is and what he’s not and whether he’s going to be able to help us this first year.”
His parents are world-champion woodchoppers
By now, you should know this, but it’s still fascinating. Tai’s father, Jason Wynyard, had to miss Tai’s letter of intent signing because he was in Poland winning his seventh Stihl Timbersports world title. During his signing ceremony, Tai said watching his father at woodchopping shows inspired him to go after his dreams.
Tai gets his basketball skills from his mother, Karmyn, who played on scholarship at the University of Alaska Anchorage and is also a woodchopper. Check out her chopping skills (third from the left):
I’ve yet to find any videos of Tai chopping wood, but he’s embraced the persona, calling himself a “Baller by trade, Lumberjack by nature” in his Twitter bio and telling local reporters in New Zealand he’s had the nickname “baby lumberjack” since he was, well, you know, a baby.
He first visited UK in January 2015
Legend has it Calipari saw Wynyard play once and was hooked. In early January, Wynyard made the trek to Lexington to see the Cats play Missouri and obviously liked what he saw, picking the Cats over Villanova and Texas a few weeks later after finishing up his visits.
Even though he wasn’t well known at all, a fan saw Wynyard with his mother, Slice, and Kenny Payne in the airport during his visit because that’s how the BBN works:
— Logan Johnson (@Logan_T_Johnson) January 11, 2015
(All that picture does is make me miss Slice.)
He’s played against Isaac Humphries a few times
After committing to Kentucky, Humphries did an interview with KSR in which the Aussie said he’s played against the New Zealander from time to time; however, just because they’re from neighboring countries doesn’t mean they’ve known each other their whole lives. AUSSIE AIN’T KIWI, Y’ALL.
He played with Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray at the Nike Hoop Summit
Wynyard won’t be a total stranger when he gets here next week. Not only did Wynyard play against Humphries growing up, he played with Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray during the Nike Hoop Summit in April. Wynyard even did some recruiting, encouraging Murray to join him in Lexington this season. It worked.
While Murray flourished at the Hoop Summit, Wynyard struggled, putting up only 2 points, 2 assists, adn a rebound in 10 minutes of play. NBADraft.net’s Michael Visenberg praised Wynyard’s strength and mid-range shooting touch, but noted that he was very raw and easily bothered by lengthy defenders.
That strength, tho. Check out Wynyard laying out his future teammate Isaiah Briscoe with a bone-crushing screen. Don’t worry, he apologized. Sort of:
https://t.co/TSZD9dPbjt Sorry mate ðŸ˜“ you ran into the wrong guy ðŸ˜‚
— Tai Wynyard (@WynyardTai) April 13, 2015
He really likes to dunk
Over the summer, Wynyard participated in the FIBA 3×3 U18 World Championships and did so well he was named MVP. 247 Sports’ Chris Fisher wrote that Wynyard was “dominant inside with his back to the basket but also hit two mid-range jumpers and came up with two big blocks in the final.”
The 3×3 format lends itself to a lot of dunks, the most impressive of which may have come during a 3×3 scrimmage in June. Check out Wynyard posterizing 6’10” Gonzaga commit Zach Collins during a scrimmage in June:
He really likes to dunk over people’s heads
That’s not just a one time thing, either:
Same brave friend willing to risk getting knocked over? Possibly.
He can do the Haka war dance
If you watched any of the FIBA World Cup last year, you may remember the New Zealand team (which included Wynyard) performing the traditional haka war dance before their games (James Harden’s reaction to it is particularly memorable). Wynyard has performed the dance several times with various New Zealand national teams, the most recent being at the FIBA Oceanic Games in August:
Actually forget what I said earlier: stop what you’re doing and learn the Haka dance right now because it’s awesome.
He wore a Maori tribal cloak at his signing ceremony
Wynyard is of MÄori descent. For those of you not up on your New Zealand history, the MÄori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Their origin has been traced to the islands of Eastern Polynesia, and records show they arrived in New Zealand in the thirteenth century AD. In 2014, Wynyard was named 2014 MÄori Sportsman of the Year, and at his signing ceremony last month, honored his heritage by donning a traditional MÄori tribal cloak:
I love all the cultures on this team.
He’ll be on campus in one week
Let’s give a nice welcome, shall we?