By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
I’ve said before that I’m a sucker for the underdog. It’s true, always have been. But I’m also a huge supporter of people who put others before themselves. People that are interested in making everyone else around them better — even if it costs them something. People that work hard for everything they get. Those types of people are pretty rare in today’s society.
So I realize in this “me first, make sure I get mine” society this selection may not be a popular opinion but at the end of the day you have to go with your heart. When a player gives up everything he has earned, sacrifices his own individual accomplishments and as the season progresses continues to give more and more of himself to win games you’ve got to give him his due. In this case his due is a spot as my second favorite player. Here’s why.
How often has a guy given up being an all-conference selection two years in a row in another Power Five conference and walked away from being the star player on another major college team to come in and play for UK just for the opportunity to potentially win a National Championship?
Did I mention that at his previous school he averaged almost 20 points per game and almost nine rebounds per game which was good enough for third in his league? He was also a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school and was ranked as high as No. 23 in the country in his recruiting class.
Of course you know I am talking about Reid Travis, last year’s graduate transfer from Stanford.
So who does that? What kind of player gives up the star role, the notoriety and the media attention at another Power Five school like Stanford to come and play as just another player for the University of Kentucky? Who sacrifices almost 20 points a game to be the guy that goes in and plays defense, grabs rebounds and directs traffic around the basket like a 6-8, 240-pound point guard?
A player that has a servant’s heart, but also loves to win, that’s who. A guy that has a servant leadership attitude in how he approaches the game and how he approaches life.
When Reid Travis was looking for another school to transfer to as a graduate student he said he was looking for new challenges, opportunities to improve his game and a different set of circumstances. He also wanted to experience basketball at its highest level. He found that at Kentucky. But he also found a little bit more. I’ll let him explain it. “I went to Trader Joe’s. That’s kind of where I like to go pick up some groceries on the weekend. I get in there and like five people started clapping,” Travis told Sporting News. “A grandma gave me a hug and said, ‘Thank you so much for coming,’ all that stuff. It was almost like I did a service to her, deciding to come here, that’s how happy she was. And was almost tearing up about it. I was like, ‘Wow, this is – this is a different type of level.'”
And you know, Travis was a perfect fit for Kentucky Basketball fans. He wasn’t the quickest guy down the floor, he didn’t jump the highest or have a sweet looking three-point shot but he did have several attributes that Kentucky fans love. He had heart. A great big heart, love for people and a love for the game. He had grit and determination. He never gave up, never gave in.
But he was also a hard worker, putting in the extra time to be successful. Here’s what Washington coach Mike Hopkins said about Travis while he was playing at Stanford, “We showed up early for our game at Stanford, and there’s one guy in the gym: Reid Travis, working on his game.”
Travis was also a leader for Kentucky — on and off the floor. He always did the little things to help others succeed and help the team to win. He set the screen, went inside to get the tough rebound or always worked to be in the right position at the right time.
“Reid’s just a great guy to play with. He definitely has the experience in college basketball. He is a leader. He’s showing these young guys how to get it done every day, how to go in and work and come out and play hard. He plays hard every possession. He has grown-man strength. He definitely knows how to move you out of the way,” PJ Washington said about Travis.
In life things don’t always work out the way we want them to. Sometimes we can work hard towards a goal only to find out that the circumstances aren’t going to allow us to reach that goal. Championships don’t always come to the best team or even the one that works the hardest and NBA contracts don’t always happen for players that work the hardest or present the best image. They don’t even always happen for the most athletic or talented players. But what does happen for those guys is they leave a lasting legacy with the fans and they become role models for future players to follow.
It seems like that is already happening. A guy like Reid Travis, accomplishing his goal at Stanford of completing his bachelor’s degree, decides to move on to other challenges in a different part of the country with a different set of coaches and in so doing paved the way for other players to do the same. And they are. Next year’s graduate transfer, Nate Sestina from Bucknell, is a guy that appears to be following Travis’ lead.
That type of leadership and self-sacrifice — putting other’s interests before your own — is what makes Reid Travis my second favorite player. Even though Travis didn’t win a National Title and wasn’t on the All- Southeastern Conference team and maybe won’t get drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft he will still always be a member of the Big Blue Family and he will have set the bar high for future graduate transfers that come to play for the Big Blue.
And as a great leader you can’t ask for more than that — to have other people follow your lead.