The nationwide division and unrest trickled down to the Kentucky basketball program this week when the team decided to come together and release a joint video highlighting their experiences with racism and social injustice, asking fans to support them off the court the same way they do as players on the floor.
“To our fans, the Big Blue Nation, we ask you to join with us,” the video said. “You cheer for us on the court, but we’re asking you to support us off the court.”
Like most hot button topics in society today, some fans loved the statement, others hated it.
In his introductory press conference with the media this morning, it took just two questions before Kentucky’s new recruiting coordinator, Jai Lucas, was asked about the video and the reaction he had when it came across his social media feed earlier this week.
Instead of diving into the specifics, though, the new basketball staff member shifted away from the video’s content itself and instead praised his team’s ability to come together for a common cause. And for that reason, Lucas hopes fans can appreciate their push to be more than an athlete and spark conversation.
“Yeah, I think the video was amazing. I’ve just started to meet the players and am getting to know them, but I think just for them to have that message and do it together, it’s a big statement on its own,” Lucas said. “I think the biggest thing with everything that’s going on in our society and in the country is that people need to come together, just have communication, 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 speak about. I think you should at least have the opportunity to just come and listen to see what they have to say and their concerns. That’s how the family and the community comes together, through conversation and through communication.”
As for some of the backlash the video received this week, Lucas isn’t terribly concerned about the recruiting impact negative comments potential prospects and their families read online. Instead, he hopes players – both current and future – value the staff’s work both publicly and behind the scenes to show support.
“It’s not much of a concern. For the players, it’s their message and what they want to put out,” Lucas said. “Our job as a staff is to support them and educate them, and I think the message of what they were saying, in my opinion, is not as political as it is being received. I just think they’re talking more so about themselves and their experiences and people that look like them. I think that’s a big part of it.”
No matter what cause they wish to fight for or the criticism they may face in the process, Lucas wants his players and future recruits to know he, along with the rest of the Kentucky coaching staff, has their backs “no matter what.”
“The recruiting part of it, it goes both ways,” the Kentucky recruiting coordinator added. “As a university, you know most of the kids, the student-athletes on the team are athletes of color. Those kids are watching to see what each university is doing and how they are responding to what’s going on, and it is a big thing that is out in the media eye right now. You just have to be educated when you’re recruiting kids and tell them the lay of the land, what’s around them, be honest with them.
“We have to let them know that no matter what, we are here to support you and protect you. That is not the opinion of everybody who’s associated with the program or even with the state of Kentucky or anything, you’re going to have people who have their opinions.”