Kentucky Basketball Previews Mississippi State


Kentucky Men’s Basketball
UK-Mississippi State Pregame Quotes
Assistant Coach John Robic
Joe Craft Center – Lexington, Ky.
Jan. 11, 2016


John Robic


On Tai Wynyard …
“Well, it was a whirlwind for him – I mean, getting here, getting everything done with him the first day so he could travel with us to go to Brooklyn. But he hit the ground running. He’s working hard. He’s getting better. He’s getting in better shape. He’s a physical presence that’s helping us in practice a lot. He’s been able to push our other big guys to a physical limit. He’s done some nice things. He’s trying to pick things up. When you’re three months in to when he got here it’s hard to play catchup, but he’s trying.”

On determining Wynyard’s playing time …
“I think more it’s when we have a comfort level that he can go in and do the things we need to him do without minimizing what we’re trying to do within the flow of the game. And then I think there will be certain matchups that will be better for him, like with Isaac (Humphries) as well – a big, strong, physical player. But he has made us a better screening team because of what he does. He sets terrific screens. Our players like it because he’s getting them open. That’s been a big point for us here lately.”

On what changes UK made at Alabama that they weren’t able to do at LSU …
“I think a big thing with that is that we set better screens. I know that it was out there that they were double teaming our guards and what not, but we set screens. It’s an emphasis that we really worked on in the time between games. Obviously it benefited us a lot. It freed up our guards and it freed up our big guys. They’re starting to understand the better screen they set the more chance they’re going to be open because their man has to help with the ball. We took advantage of that and really executed very well.”

On what UK has to do to develop more consistency …
“Just keep repetition. It’s the biggest thing and just working on it daily.”

On Alex Poythress being important in pick and roll …
”When Alex sets a screen, or anybody for that matter, it makes it a lot better. But he was aggressive. He came out of the pick-and-rolls. Tyler (Ulis) and the other guards did a good job finding him when he was open and he made easy, quick, decisive plays.”

On Ulis’ passing skills …
“Huge skill. We don’t have to teach Tyler a whole lot. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve been around in my 27, 28 years of coaching. He helps us sometimes, but he just has a great feel for that. You’re shocked when he doesn’t make the right read. Doing it and playing a majority of the minutes every game is quite impressive.”

On if UK’s pick-and-roll creates action around the basket …
“No, it doesn’t. Obviously It’s going to be out on the floor more. We wanted to try to get them moving to go into an action like that instead of just having a set defense. I think that worked very well the last game. It is another way to get it to the post, but it’s not a mud-wrestling match down there. You’ve got to play somebody with the ball.”

On UK’s effort at Alabama …
“I would say that it was pretty strong. Something that we emphasized quite a bit: energy. We’ve had that in practice, but they focused on it. We got off to a good start, which I think was important as well, and you could sense that they understood what they had to do to start the game to win on the road.”

On if effort is a problem that all college teams face …
“It’s like that in absolutely every sport that’s played. Sometimes with kids it’s a little bit tougher. Going on the road and trying to get that first true road win was important for these young kids. Because as much as you can talk about playing at Kentucky, they’re not going to have a crowd like that the rest of the year, even with them not being in school and the national championship game tonight. There were a lot of people that weren’t even in town. I think that’s true with everybody.”

On if the Alabama game was a significant game for Isaiah Briscoe’s confidence when shooting …
“He’s working his tail off. Sure, I mean when you see the ball go through the net, it lifts not only your spirits but your teammates’. For instance, to start the game Alex (Poythress) made five or six free throws in a row to start. As he got off to a good start that just lifts everybody.”

On working through struggles at the free- throw line …
“It is what it is. It’s not like (Briscoe) doesn’t want to make them. They’re just not falling for him. He knows that he has to work on it. It’s different being in our practice gym than being in Coleman Coliseum with 16,000 people or however many that were there, 13,000. I just have a feeling that kid is going to make them when it really matters. I just have a feeling. He wants to be on the court and he knows that he has to perform that task better. We need him on the court. When (Marcus Lee) shoots free throws in practice, they look great. He works on it. Maybe it’s a little bit mental. If they can just make their fair share of them, better than what they are now obviously it will make us a better team.”

On Briscoe’s free-throw shooting from high school to college …
“I don’t know how many high schools keep actual stats too, by the way. That means I was 90 percent. I read what has been written about it. It’s just one of those things. He’s just not shooting them as well. All we want both of them to do is shoot the ball straight. If you shoot a straight shot, it has a chance to go in. If it’s left or right, it has absolutely no chance. That’s all we’re asking these kids to do. We have a chance to rebound the ball if they do miss.”

On getting back to shooting fundamentals …
“It’s not that they’re moving. The ball’s moving right or left. That’s like a golfer hooking it or slicing it. It’s obviously the movement in your hands, somehow coming off one way or another. The less motion the better. It’s just keeping everything still and that’s the way that we teach it. It’s just a repetition thing for our guys. When they shoot it straight, it’s great. It’s just keeping everything tight, keeping everything compact and eventually they are going to go in. We all believe that. Teammates do, coaches do. We’ll see what happens.” 

On the challenges Mississippi State presents ...
“Gavin Ware is probably, of the teams I’ve seen on film so far, I would see he’s probably one of the top one or two most improved players in this entire league. I haven’t seen everybody yet, but without question him (Ware) and (Retin) Obasohan from Alabama, but this kid is a horse down low. He goes and gets the ball offensively off the glass. He’s developed a 15- to 17-foot jump shot that you have to play him out. He creates great angles at the rim. They’ve been playing a little bit more zone lately here especially in conference. Coach (Ben) Howland is typically a man-to-man coach. You can see they’re only getting better. They have guys that can score. Malik Newman is playing much better after coming off an injury early to his toe. He’s a terrific scoring guard that we recruited that can put the ball in the basket and can play the combination. I really like their first five or six guys. It’s an older team with a bunch of seniors on it that started the season off very well and they’re giving people trouble. They took (Texas) A&M all the way to the wire the other day. We’re going to have to be ready for a hungry team coming in here.”

On the strengths of past teams Howland coached and what they’ve looked like when they’re at their best …
“Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love. That helps. You’re always going to find that his teams are going to grind and hang their hat defensively. They want to play a slower tempo offensively. Play the game in the low 60s would be a typical stat line for Coach Howland’s teams. They are very fundamentally sound, sound defensively. I’m sure that he’s not used to coaching zone, so this is an adjustment for him, just like it would be for us. He’s made great inroads in recruiting so he’s getting it rolling down in Starkville.” 

On Malik Newman …
“You can ask him tomorrow. He’s a great kid, great family. We recruited the heck out of him. It’s tough saying no to your home state team or one of them. He’s having a good year. He’s getting better. He’s shooting the ball better. They’re playing him a little more at point guard, which is something that he wanted to do. He’s going to have a solid rest of the year, that’s for sure.”

Kentucky Student-Athletes


#14, Tai Wynyard, Forward


On what it’s like to be in Lexington …
“It’s been pretty good. When I got here, it was really good weather but then it turned around really quickly. It’s gotten a little bit colder, but it’s all good.”

On the whirlwind of his arrival …
“As soon as I got here, we got straight into (Camp) Cal. So that was real good for me trying to get into shape and into the mix of things and just learning a lot about everyone and stuff. So it was good not having to go to classes or anything because I just got the chance to just work out and stuff. It’s been a lot of fun.”

On the level of competition …
“Oh, it’s really high. Even being back home, I played a lot with men and stuff being in that competition back home. So that prepared me a lot, but this is another step up. Everyone’s a lot more athletic and a lot (more) physical. Yeah, it’s real good.”

On the challenge of getting in shape …
“Yeah, I guess I was (more out of shape that I thought). Not expecting all this. It’s a lot more running and stuff than back home. So yeah, I was a little bit out of shape, but I’m getting back in shape now. Coach (Kenny) Payne is working with me a lot and he’s got me in shape now so I’m feeling really good.”

On what he needs to do to help the team …
“I guess I just have to keep seeing where I am. Just keep working out, doing the best I can to help the team get better, get stronger, pushing everyone around and trying to assert my dominance, my physicality and stuff. I guess I’ll be ready whenever he calls upon me.”

On whether he’s been better than he expected at anything …
“Probably just my physicality, bringing that in. I guess that’s what everyone knows me by. So I guess probably that is what I was coming in being good at.”

On how he developed his physicality …
“I don’t know. I guess I’ve been really strong my whole life growing up around a strong family, genes. My dad was big sports person, being the lumberjack he is. I probably got a lot of that from him. Probably playing with a lot of men back home, because there’s not really many younger good players around. Probably that, yeah.”

On how much wood he has chopped …
“Oh, a lot. Dad’s probably cut down somewhat 1,000 trees or so. So it’s a lot.”

On if wood chopping has built up strength over the years outside of his weight training …
“Yeah, I guess it’s all in the mind, you know? That’s what my dad has taught me my whole life. It’s not really how you look. Someone can have all the muscles and everything, but if they’re not strong in the mind they’re not going to be really strong. You can be physically strong in the weight room and stuff, but you won’t always be strong on the court.”

On where he is in learning the offensive sets …
“I guess I’m still kind of getting into it. It’s a lot of plays to learn really quickly so it’s been tough for me because it’s changing every time they play a different team. Not being here at the start has really left me kind of behind. I’m trying to catch up all the time. I’m kind of getting there still, I’m still learning and stuff. It’s really good.”

On if any of his teammates have been surprised by his strength …
“I don’t know, you’d have to ask them.”

On people saying Kentucky needs more of a physical presence and they’re saying he can provide it despite him never having played a game at UK …
“I guess I’m still just trying to develop my game. Still trying to get into the mix of things and learn as I go. I’m just trying to keep developing my skills with the coaches and stuff, so I’m still learning a lot every day.”

On how many trees he’s chopped down, personally …
“I’ve chopped down a lot, but I don’t know how many. It’s mostly my dad who chops a lot of wood, but I used to chop a little bit when I was back home. Not really that much, but I did a little bit.”

On what he expects the feeling will be like when he does get into his first game …
“I guess it’s going to be – it depends on where it is. If it’s at Rupp it’s going to be crazy because there’s what, 25,000 or something crazy fans? Back home I’m used to what, 4,000 at most? It’ll be an eye-opener, yeah.”

On if the Nike Hoop Summit game was his first taste of American basketball …
“I guess my first one was the Jordan Brand Classic when I came over for the international game and we played against USA there. That was probably my first. The Nike Hoop Summit was a crazy good experience. Being able to play against and train against all that amazing talent. Being able to meet some of the players that are here now, like Skal (Labissiere), Isaiah (Briscoe) and Jamal (Murray) and all them. Yeah, it was really cool.”

On if the transition has been better with some of the international players on this team …
“Well there’s a lot of international players, like Canadian over here (as Mychal Mulder walks by). But there’s a lot of international players so it’s cool because you can relate with them, especially Isaac (Humphries), he’s from Australia, so we’re kind of neighbors, we’re not from the same country just so you all know. Australia is not New Zealand. But yeah, it’s really cool.”

On how him and Isaac have been able to bury the hatchet because New Zealand and Australia are rivals in a lot of international sports …
“Yeah, we’re always having little digs at each other. Kiwi, Aussie, but we’re just playing around with each other. It’s been good. It’s a lot of fun being able to relate with someone.”

On if he has adjusted his diet since he came to Kentucky …
“Well, since I’ve been here I haven’t been eating very well overall, I’m going to be honest with you. That American food kind of gets me. When I was home, I was eating well. But as soon as I get over here, I’m just eating fried chicken.” 

On what he doesn’t like about it or if it’s just bad for him …
“Yeah I like it, but it’s bad for me. That’s why I’m in the gym working out so I can eat that stuff I guess.”

On what his favorite restaurant is …
“I don’t have really any favorites. Probably Buffalo Wild Wings. It’s nice, I’ve been there a lot.”

On why he chose Kentucky …
“I guess it’s just the best. I know just Coach Cal and all these crazy-talented, crazy athletes. They’re just trying to get you the best opportunity to win a national championship and all. Develop your game. Being able to play against the best is what you need.”

On if he feels any pressure being here …
“Not really. I kind of feel like a guy that doesn’t really have much pressure on him. The roof is just up there, you can keep pushing yourself. I don’t know, I don’t feel pressured. I don’t know if that’s because I’m a New Zealander and we don’t feel pressure. But yeah, I’m not really feeling anything.”

On if there was anything he learned that made his head spin …
“I don’t know, not really. It’s all kind of the same kind of stuff, but it’s just a lot different. Kind of going through different stuff with different teams, it’s really mucking me up a little bit. But I’m sure I’ll get there real soon. I’m doing a lot better now. I’m kind of getting into the mix a lot more.”

On if he has noticed if the water rotates the opposite way in the northern hemisphere as it’s going down the drain …
“I didn’t notice that, but thanks for telling me.”