Mystery Man: Wynyard Eager to Take Floor
Perhaps no Kentucky basketball player in recent memory has been more of an unknown than Tai Wynyard.
The New Zealander doesn’t have the massive backlog of YouTube mixtapes of a typical John Calipari recruit. He didn’t play high-school ball in the United States and certainly didn’t take in the prep all-star circuit before enrolling.
That’s left fans to wonder what the Kiwi is all about, latching on any morsel of information, namely his predisposition for chopping wood as the son of a world-champion lumberjack.
“It’s kind of cool,” Wynyard said. “They don’t know what to expect and that’s pretty fun to be able to be in that position.”
Wynyard arrived on campus as a midyear enrollee in December of last season. His imposing 6-foot-10 frame led many to wonder whether he might immediately add some much-needed bulk to the thin UK frontcourt, but he instead redshirted. Needless to say, sitting out has only added to the anticipation as he prepares to play in his first game as a Wildcat.
“It’s going to be a really cool experience, being able to come in and play after watching everyone play for so long,” Wynyard said. “It’ll be pretty cool. It’s just been a little tease for me. It’s right there. I could just go and grab it.”
Though the last 10 months haven’t always been easy, enrolling early was the right decision for Wynyard.
“Joining a team midseason was really tough for me,” Wynyard said. “Coming into a team that’s already established, I missed out on summer and stuff like that. It was pretty hard. It was pretty cool now this year because I already know everything.”
Not only has Wynyard already settled in as a college student and adjusted to practices under John Calipari, his game has also taken leaps forward, as you’d expect with the competition he faces every day.
“I’ve definitely improved a lot since I’ve been here,” Wynyard said. “Everything. My conditioning has gone up. My strength has gone up and my finishing around the hoop has been stronger. My rebounding. Everything you can think of has gone up a little bit.”
The goal for Wynyard is now to translate that improvement into playing time and production. To get there, his coach said he still does have work ahead.
“I still think he’s a little behind physically, conditioning,” Calipari said. “Until you break that it’s really hard to break through, because you’re behind the action, which means you’re late to balls, which means shots get blocked. Being in great condition. That’s what Isaac (Humphries) has done, and that’s what Tai has to do.”
Calipari invoking the example of a native of New Zealand’s neighbor and rival, Australia, has to add some motivation for Wynyard, and the conditioning message is one he has taken to heart.
“I just really need to push myself and get into the best shape that I can be in so that I can be on the court for as long as I can be,” Wynyard said.
When he’s on the court, Wynyard can definitely tell fans what to expect.
“I can provide this team with hard work and dedication,” Wynyard said. “You put me on that court, I’m going to get every rebound I can get and fight for everything.”
Words only do so much to clear up the mystery though. It’s going to take stepping between the lines for fans to really know Wynyard.
“I’m really excited to be able to show the people how I play and what type of player I am. They’ve already seen little highlight videos, which doesn’t really show me at all because it was so long ago. I’m just excited to get into it.”