It’s been one week since Olivier Sarr found out he is eligible to play for Kentucky this season and the seven-footer from France is still smiling. On a Zoom with reporters today, Sarr recalled the exact moment John Calipari delivered the good news, which made Sarr so happy he almost picked his 61-year-old coach off the ground.
“My funniest interaction with him, I’d say, is when he called me to tell me the news that I was going to be able to play this season. Heading to his office, I was running up the stairs and all that. Hugged him. I almost picked him off the floor. We were just happy, really.”
“It was just funny because every day, every time he steps in the gym, I say something to him like, ‘Hey, Coach, you got any news? You know when it’s coming? You got something for me? You got good news?’ And he’s always like, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming.’ I was in treatment that day and I got a phone call from him and I picked it up and as soon as I saw it on my phone and he said, ‘Come to my office.’ I literally ran upstairs and I came in and he was smiling and I already knew it. He told me and I hugged him. We hugged each other. I didn’t really pick him up, but almost.”
Sarr decided to leave Wake Forest in May following the firing of Danny Manning, and even after he settled on Kentucky — an opportunity he “couldn’t refuse” — his future remained in limbo as he waited to hear about his eligibility waiver. He admitted to reporters it’s been a difficult few months, but thanked Calipari and the Kentucky staff for encouraging him to stay positive.
“It was a tough process. You had the pandemic in between. It was a tough decision, obviously. I was thinking about going professional and then met with Coach Manning and changed my mind. Thought about staying one more year at Wake Forest and have a great season and then you know what happened with Coach [Manning]. Coach got fired pretty late so I changed my plans and then the Kentucky opportunity came up and it’s something that I couldn’t refuse. I had to make that decision and then the wait with my waiver and all that, it was tough, even though Coach Cal helped me a lot, supported me and everyone in the organization here helped me a lot. They told me to stay positive at all times and I did, but sometimes, honestly, it was tough, but it paid [off]. Now, it’s good. Now, it’s official and I’m part of the team. I’m really happy to be here.”
Once the news broke that Sarr and Jacob Toppin were cleared to play, college basketball writers boosted Kentucky into the top ten, or even top fives, of their preseason rankings. When asked about being this team’s “X-factor,” Sarr said he’s trying to tune out the noise and focus on winning a national championship.
“Honestly, it was something that I’d hear about but as long as the season didn’t start, all I could do was focus on work, focus on helping the team as much as I can at practice. Getting the guys ready to face whoever we’re going to face every night, be ready for battle, share my experience, and make the team better as a whole and then we’ll see the impact at the end of the season.”
Winning a title is Sarr’s No. 1 priority, but the exposure of being on college basketball’s biggest stage is an added bonus.
“I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to be able to perform on a better, higher platform where you’ve got more attention and more chances, truthfully, to go deep in the tournament. Winning was my goal and winning was something I really wanted to do. I tried to do that at Wake and I tried my best to improve individually but it showed our limits, so I really tried to come to Kentucky and bring everything I had, my experience and all that, to help this team and I felt like talking with Coach Cal, they needed experience in the frontcourt, at the big position, and it’s a lot of competition. It’s a lot of great players at my position, but you can’t look at that as pressure or anything negative, it’s just helping me get better and helping everybody getting better, so I think it’s a win-win situation for me.”