Briscoe ‘Inspired’ by Leadership Role, Cal’s Trust

Isaiah Briscoe spells out perfectly logical reasoning why John Calipari turned to him to be the featured team leader in his sophomore season.

“Last year I started,” Briscoe said. “I was the only returning starter, so coming up this year it only makes sense.”

The thing is, the idea of a leader making sense matters little when it comes to taking the reins of a team expected to contend for the national championship. The candidate has to be willing to take on the responsibility and able to earn the respect and trust of his teammates and coaches.

Good thing for UK Briscoe has that covered.

“I took on the challenge, I embraced the role and here we are,” Briscoe said.

Where UK is, is on the doorstep of a new season with a new and improved Briscoe. As the Wildcats – ranked No. 2/4 in the major preseason polls – prepare for a matchup Friday at 7 p.m. with Stephen F. Austin – a team that’s reached the NCAA Tournament in three straight years – Briscoe is rewarding Calipari for the trust he’s placed in him.

“I think being a leader pushed me to be a better person every day,” Briscoe said. “And that’s on and off the court trying to help these guys out with whatever they need. Overall, that’s just been—I’ve been inspired by being a leader, so I’ve just been trying to become a better player.”

In two exhibitions, Briscoe certainly looked the part, both as a leader and as a player.

No player on the floor is more vocal, with Briscoe making sure his younger teammates – especially freshman backcourt mates De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk – are doing the right things. Briscoe hasn’t been forcing a thing on offense, showcasing his improved shot – he’s 7 of 11 from the field and 7 of 10 at the line in the two tune-ups – and feeding his teammates to the tune of 18 total assists.

“I’m in a better state of mind, I think,” Briscoe said. “I feel confident, a lot more confident on the court. I’m just getting comfortable. Me and Coach’s relationship is a lot better. I know what he wants from me. I know what he wants from the team and the more I talk, the less he has to talk in practice. I think that he enjoys that.”

Briscoe is quick to point out that relationship was good last year, saying only that it wasn’t at the level of, say, Tyler Ulis’ relationship with Calipari or the one Briscoe shares with him now. Once again, that makes sense.

“First year is always hard for these kids because they have their way of doing something,” Calipari said. “It got them here and they think, ‘I can be this way and go where I’m trying to go.’ In most cases you can’t. This thing is about developing great habits. A lot times guys will fight you as they have to develop good habits. They want to be sneaky and – you can’t.”

There’s no being sneaky for Briscoe now that every move he makes counts.

“You got people on the team looking up to me since I’m a leader,” Briscoe said. “I gotta lead by example. I gotta work hard, let them know that nothing’s easy, I’m not just trying to coast or anything like that. I just gotta know that it starts with me.”

Briscoe had a productive freshman season, but he was always a complementary piece. Now, there’s no telling how his statistics will stack up with the 9.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists he averaged last year, but Briscoe will have improved by leaps and bounds regardless.

“One, he’s owning his own game,” Calipari said. “Like, he’s in that gym, he’s working on his shooting, he knows that’s what he’s got to do. I love the fact that he’s competitive in what he does. I was just on a phone call today saying, ‘He never guarded until he went to Kentucky. He didn’t guard anybody. I watched him, we played against him.’ So you look at him now. He’s transformed who he is.”

Nice words, but Calipari saved his highest praise for Briscoe for last.

“I’ll tell you what,” Calipari said. “If I’m in a foxhole, that’s who I want beside me.”

That’s where Briscoe will be all season: at the right hand of his coach.