The summer of 2020 at the Joe Craft Center is unlike any other. The coronavirus pandemic delayed the Kentucky basketball team’s arrival until the end of June. Once they got on campus, players were limited to strength and conditioning. On Monday coaches were finally able to interact with the new Wildcats.
“It was a little bit like Christmas morning yesterday around here,” men’s basketball assistant coach Joel Justus said on Kentucky Roll Call Tuesday morning.
“The crazy thing is we hadn’t even been able to see them. They moved in, you spend all this time recruiting guys and especially for us, with ten new guys coming to campus, we weren’t even able to see them, much less work them out,” he continued.
“It’s such a big deal to go away to college and have your son be away from home and enter into something new, much less during a pandemic like we got going on here, and us as coaches were not allowed to see the guys. So yesterday was the first day we were even allowed to see them in person since they’ve been here 18, 19 days ago. It was a lot more about that for us and for our coaching staff. It was just good to see the guys, check in with them and make sure everybody was doing well. It was good. It was a fun day yesterday. I think everybody was happy and excited to be around each other, which was nice.”
The team is now able to work together, yet it’s still not exactly open practice with five-on-five scrimmages. Justus said they’re starting summer workouts by focusing on individual drills and skill development while coaches are limited to four hours of contact with the team per week. When the coaches can’t be there, Olivier Sarr and Davion Mintz play a prominent role.
The Wake Forest and Creighton transfers may be new to the University of Kentucky, but they have a combined seven years of experience on a college basketball roster. That experience will pay dividends over the coming weeks.
“I think what he (Sarr), as well as Davion Mintz, brings to the this team right now is two veteran guys who have had a lot of practice,” said Justus. “Our team needs to learn how to practice, learn how to work and learn how to compete every single day before we can even think about being a good basketball team against competition. I think with Olivier, he was obviously well coached by Danny Manning and the staff at Wake Forest and he’s had success at a very high level. He’s a young man that’s driven. He wants to be better. He’s a guy that’s really excited to be here and anytime you have guys, whether they’re incoming freshmen or transfers, you want guys that are really two feet on the boat, really bought in. I think when guys are really bought in and they’re really focused on basketball and getting better, they have a great experience here and we ultimately have a lot of fun coaching those guys.”
The coaching staff only has four hours a week with the team until October. Until then, it’s up to the upperclassmen to the show the freshmen the college basketball ropes and ensure they’re ready to play when the ball is eventually tipped to start the 2020-21 season.
“You come here to get better,” said Justus. “This is about competing, this is about pushing yourself. This is about the ultimate pursuit of becoming your best version.”