What a night for Nate Sestina. The Bucknell grad transfer crossed the 1,000-point mark in his career in a big way, hitting three of four threes to help Kentucky hold off LSU 79-76. Sestina finished with eleven points, his first double-digit scoring outing since Kentucky’s loss to Ohio State almost two months ago, and a team-high eight rebounds, his most since he had 12 vs. Utah Valley on Nov. 18.
Afterwards, Sestina credited his breakthrough to 10-Minute Toughness, a book by Jason Selk that John Calipari recommended.
“It’s a mental toughness training thing,” Sestina said. “It’s a big time exhale. It’s been frustrating because I haven’t been able to do anything defensively either, so for me, it’s not just about trying to get a bucket or anything like that. I’ve got to do something defensively to help my team and I had been struggling with that as well and tonight, everything really came to fruition.”
Calipari has a history of recommending books to his players, most memorably The Energy Bus to Willie Cauley-Stein back in 2013.
“Most of the stuff I give them is what I think is pertinent to them,” Calipari said. “So, sometimes it’s a parable in that form which is easier for them to read. That book wasn’t. I told him that he needed to read it because there was a girl that was a college player that got injured and got demoralized when she wasn’t playing well and then how she built herself back and then she ended up having a great year. I said, ‘It’s a great story for you to read.'”
Sestina played 27 minutes tonight, his most since the Missouri game on Jan. 4. His eleven points vs. LSU match his combined total from the five games prior.
“I’m supposed to be a senior leader I’ve been playing, like I was a freshman, a high school player,” Sestina said. “[Calipari] recommended it for me and it just kind of goes through breathing exercises and focusing in on visualizing things before the game. It’s actually crazy because it talks about if you’re at the free throw line, can you visualize yourself feeling the ball, doing your routine, taking breaths, and talking about this 15-second breathing where you breath in for six seconds, hold for two, exhale for seven — which, you don’t have a lot of time at the free throw line, so as you get fouled, do it when the ref calls it. Start your breathing just to calm down and it’s actually been a big help.”
If that routine sounds familiar, it’s very similar to Immanuel Quickley’s meditative stance at the free-throw line, which has resulted in a 91.2% success rate this season. It’s not a coincidence that the two are roommates.
“He’s my roommate on away games too, so it’s big time,” Sestina said of Quickley. “He and I talk hoops, talk God, talk family, talk basketball, obviously, but he’s been a big help and he actually sent me a thing last night about Kobe Bryant talking about mental toughness and being in the right spot in the right time to hit a big shot and trust that it’s going in. If you miss it, you’re going to make the next one. I missed that one in the first half really far right from three and in my head, I was like, ‘Alright, the next one’s in.’ And shot the next one and it went in. Next one went in, next one went in. Stuff like that really starts to carry over and helps out.”
“He’s been a big help for me,” Sestina added of Quickley. “We play one-on-one at night. He beats me but don’t let him fool you. I did beat him in the mid-post. He’s a big time help.”
“He’s a good player,” LSU head coach Will Wade said of Sestina. “Kentucky’s road splits are better shooting the ball. We left him wide open. He’s a good college player. Of course he’s going to make a wide open shot. He had been shooting it well earlier in the year. I knew he had struggled lately. He struggled against Mississippi. He struggled in a couple of other games. He had a wide-open corner three, a wide-open pick-and-pop three. He’s a good player. He’s going to make plays when you give him those opportunities.”
Kentucky was +15 with Sestina on the floor, a team high. As Wade said, Sestina’s leadership showed.
“You listen to Kentucky — I mean, in the second half, we’re running double drags and twins and different things and Sestina is out there, he’s talking everybody through the actions and Quickley’s talking everybody through the actions. We don’t have anybody who does that. So, that’s why Kentucky’s been able to win a lot of close games and we’re kind in the rut that we are right now.”
“He’s a great kid,” Calipari said. “I’ve been telling him he has buzzard’s luck. Can’t find anything to eat and nothing will die. I told him I’ve been praying for him. I just wanted him to break through.”
“My teammates and my coaches have been on my case about trusting my training and believing in myself and knowing that everything’s going to pay off,” Sestina said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the gym and the weight room, on the treadmill to stay in shape and just trying to stay mentally sharp. I’ve actually been reading this book that’s been helping me out with mental toughness and mental training. Just kind of believing that and trusting that it’s going to come to fruition eventually and tonight I guess it did.”
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 19, 2020