In town for the 2019 John Calipari Draft Academy, former Kentucky forward Reid Travis walked into the Joe Craft Training Facility with quite the smile on his face on Thursday morning. Marker in hand, the 6-foot-9 big man shuffled up to UK’s imitation Rupp Arena floor scattered with the signatures of former players and added his name smack dab in the middle of the post on the right side of the court.
Why? It’s where Travis picked up the majority of his 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest in his time at Kentucky.
“I think I spent a lot of time down there, a lot of our plays came from low pin-downs, me kind of going around and posting up on that spot,” he said on Thursday. “That’s kind of a special spot for me on the court.”
For the former Wildcat, working in that sweet spot down low in a Kentucky uniform was just one of the memories he was so excited to relive in his time back in Lexington.
“It feels really good to be back, just seeing some of the guys, it’s great,” he said. “You can feel the energy, the brotherhood, and just see each other. And it’s always nice to see the coaches, see the guys you went to battle with. It’s been great for me, I mean I just got in this morning, but I got a big smile on my face seeing everybody.”
While Travis is all smiles now, there was a bit of uncertainty as the season unfolded about how he would look back on his time in Lexington. Coming off a season averaging 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds en route to first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a senior at Stanford, the ultimate goal was to build his NBA Draft stock into potential first-round status. His father even came out after the season ended and told Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader that Travis “kind of got away from what he wanted to do when he came there.”
This morning, Travis was asked about whether he put too much pressure on himself initially in terms of boosting his draft stock and whether he was down on his time in Lexington at all because it didn’t exactly end the way he had originally hoped.
“I wouldn’t say I put too much pressure on it as far as coming here and playing in the NBA,” he said. “Kentucky is not just going to mold you in and you’re going to be an NBA player just because you wear Kentucky across your chest. Everyone’s situation is different and I understand that, I’m fine with it. For me, it was just about getting better as a basketball player and better as a person, that’s the reason I came here. I feel like I did those things. It wasn’t just because I wanted to come here and become an NBA player, and because that didn’t happen, last year was a failure to me. I feel like I grew, became a better player and a better man. The things I wanted to happen did, so last season was a major success to me.”
In terms of his own personal growth, Travis said he saw major improvements both physically and mentality. It may not have always shown on the stat sheet, but the former Wildcat said he is absolutely a better all-around basketball player from the time he first got to Lexington.
“My confidence jumped playing at Kentucky, playing against packed crowds, playing against top teams,” he said. “Being one of those top teams and going against some of those top players, then playing Summer League, my confidence jumped more. … I think the biggest thing is just my motor, my athleticism. Losing the weight at the start of the season, and just being able to compete against better players. It’s tough to see on the stat sheet and things like that, but I know deep down, I feel like a way better player than last year when I came out of Stanford.”
Part of the reason his draft stock took a hit late in the year had to do with his overall health and the lingering issues from the knee injury he suffered against Missouri in late February. He eventually returned to the floor during the SEC Tournament, but he was held out of pre-draft workouts that likely killed any chance of him sliding in at the end of the second round.
Does he regret returning to the floor? Not in the slightest.
“They wouldn’t have sent me out there if I wasn’t ready to go,” he said. “In basketball and in sports, there’s guys battling injuries all across the board. I think if you go and talk to everyone in the NCAA Tournament, there’s something bugging somebody. It was something I thought I could play through. I was comfortable with that. I was willing to do that. … They were going to have to cut my leg off to keep me from playing. That was my decision all the way. It may have hampered me as far as pre-draft workouts and things like that. That was something I understood on the front end. And there’s really no regrets.”
Next week, Travis will head out to Germany to begin his professional career with Medi Bayreuth in the German Basketball Bundesliga, a move that he feels will help his long-term basketball future.
With goals of being one-and-done overseas and earning a roster spot in the NBA next year, the former Wildcat says this club will help him achieve that.
“I feel good, I think I picked a great spot,” he said. “Obviously my ultimate goal was to play in the NBA this year, but I think having great talks with some of the coaches like Calipari and Kenny Payne, just reassuring me that those goals are still in reach. It’s not a bad thing to go over there for a year and work on some things, then come back and show what I can do. I understand my path is different, but I’m excited for it. I think it’s a great opportunity with a great club, and it was ultimately the reason why I picked them. I felt that they would prepare me the best to ultimately get to my goals.”
In his mind, you can either sulk or roll with the punches in the position he’s in.
He’s opting for the latter.
“I’ve felt I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, just having to go overseas for a year. Seems like it’d be nice for me, in many aspects,” he said. “I think you can look at it two ways: [you can be] bitter and salty and not enjoy the experience, or you can see it as a great life experience. I mean, I get to go over there and see a new culture, see a different country, play basketball at a high level, and get paid to do it. There’s a lot of good things going my way. It’d be easy to sit here and look at it as a failure, but I don’t look at it like that. I just see it as another step in my journey. I’m excited to put my head down, work hard, and hopefully next year come to Summer League and show something, make an NBA roster.”