Kentucky basketball: This ain’t easy

Reid Travis (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

I’m going to tell you something you probably already know. In fact, if you are or have been parents of teenagers, I’m sure you already know this. Teenagers don’t always listen … and they don’t always do what you tell them. They think they know everything and they don’t need your help. Now sometimes they can get away with that but sometimes it blows up in their faces.

After Saturday’s down to the wire 82-80 win at Auburn John Calipari was saying the same thing. He said about his guys being young, “They don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know that they aren’t supposed to come in here and be up 17 and win.”

That is the good side of being a teenager. Believing you can go out and do anything. Conquer the world because as John Calipari said, “They don’t know what they don’t know.”

But there is a down side to that thinking also. Here it is. Calipari said, “We walked out of two timeouts and they did what they chose to do. So I asked, ‘Why would you do that? Because we are freshmen and our whole lives we have done what we choose to do.”

So it becomes a two-edged sword. On the one hand as a teenager they aren’t intimidated by the “Super Bowl” atmosphere at most of the venues in the SEC. They don’t care about the “white outs” and “black outs” and all the other “outs” that other SEC schools do to try to help their team secure a victory against the Cats. They just don’t care.

But when you believe in yourself and you just don’t care everyone has to be willing to accept the consequences of being caught up in the moment. Sometimes caught up in moments like this. Calipari said, “The problem is as the game gets going they’ll revert and think it is a high school game.” 

It happened at Alabama and unfortunately they lost. In the second half alone at Alabama UK grabbed the lead early in the half after falling behind but then reverted back to high school and allowed the Crimson Tide to build an 11 point lead with three minutes left on the clock. Tyler Herro missed a buzzer beater and the Wildcats lost by 2.

In Saturday’s game against Auburn, as teenagers will do, UK’s freshmen reverted again. But this time the Wildcats were the ones to build a big lead only to see it disappear as they got away from the game plan and reverted back. Only this time it didn’t cost them the game. They seemed to right the ship in the last couple of minutes, had some key plays from Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley, all teenagers, and sealed the road victory.

But here is the interesting part. As much as all the teenagers should get a great amount of credit for the win at Auburn someone else should get some credit also. His name is Reid Travis. He is not a teenager. In fact he is a senior. The grey beard of the group. During Auburn’s comeback run in the second half when the teenagers were reverting back to a high school-style of play Reid Travis was the one bringing them back to earth. He was the one pushing them to turnaround, to comeback to a college-style of play.

“I was preaching just quit looking at the scoreboard and play the way that got us the lead,” UK senior Reid Travis, said after the win. “That’s what we finally did to get a great win.”

And he was right. That’s what they finally did to get the win.

So back to the discussion of teenagers. You would think after so many years of the one-and-done recruiting method at UK that the fans, media and coaches alike would get used to this up and down roller coaster ride that happens annually with a team made up of predominately 18 and 19-year olds. But they don’t.

In fact, not only are they not used to it but it still comes as a surprise to many. And it’s not just happening at UK. As the one-and-done philosophy spreads to other schools that same up and down ride is occurring there also. Well, that’s if those schools are lucky. At some schools the ride is just down. Straight down.

Take Vanderbilt basketball, UK’s SEC neighbor to the southwest. Bryce Drew, the Vandy head coach, recruited a No. 7 class for 2018 that consisted of three highly talented freshmen that have played key roles for his team this year. Unfortunately his team, that only has one senior on it’s roster, is 0-5 in the SEC. The first time in Vanderbilt program history that the team has lost five games in a row to start a season.

His players also are teenagers and here’s what he had to say about it. “Unfortunately,  I can’t create any drills or anything in practice that equals experience. So a lot of times we do it well in practice then you get into a game and it’s usually underclassmen that just don’t make the simple play that we practiced.”  Reverting back to the high school game that they know.

It happens all over the country. Every weekend. So it’s good to see that maybe UK’s teenagers are growing up. And it’s also good to see that they have an older brother on the team to keep them in line. For anyone who has ever been a teenager – and that pretty much includes us all – you know how hard it is to figure it all out. 

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