Isaiah Briscoe was facing the deadline day for the NBA Draft when he met with coach John Calipari and assistant coach Kenny Payne a few weeks ago.
Briscoe was not the lead point guard, playing behind sophomore Tyler Ulis who stayed in the Draft, but that rarely matters in the potential-driven NBA Draft. If a player shows something, he can shoot up draft boards pretty quickly. Briscoe was certainly in consideration for a first round pick.
The timing was not right though for Briscoe. His job at Kentucky was not done. His job developing into the NBA player he might one day become was not done. There was a missing piece to his game.
And everything he needed to do to fill that gap in his game and for his team would only come if he returned to Lexington and led the Wildcats.
First he had to pull out of the Draft.
“I think they were waiting for the deadline to actually have that talk with me and once they had the talk it was a no-brainer that I wanted to come back to Kentucky,”Briscoe said at a media availability in Lexington on Wednesday. “And I never had a problem with coming back to Kentucky to begin with.”
“I don’t think anybody’s seen the real Isaiah, but I’m still in the gym working and just trying to become a better player each and every day.”
That decision was not easy. Despite Briscoe not getting an invite to the NBA Draft Combine, Briscoe said he had several good workouts nad got good feedback on his game.
Briscoe averaged 9.6 points per game and 3.1 assists per game in 32.2 minutes per game, starting most games next to Tyler Ulis. The Wildcats had a bit of a down year last year record-wise and struggled with the transition of several freshmen this time around.
Briscoe said in weighing whether to stay in the Draft, he was encouraged to consider security. Without much chance of getting the guaranteed contract from getting picked in the first round, he would have to focus on getting a contract rather than improving his game.
The feedback he got from NBA teams told him he should go back to school and show he can shoot, he said. Briscoe shot 43.9 percent from the floor and an icy 13.5 percent from beyond the arc in 37 attempts. Having said that, Briscoe said NBA teams were surprised at how good of a shooter he was despite those numbers.
In the modern NBA, 3-point shooting is paramount and so this will be a skill Briscoe will have to develop more as he prepares for his sophomore year.
There is more to his goals in returning to Kentucky though. There is a season in front of him and new group of talented player to support as freshmen. Even as a sophomore, Briscoe now can be seen as a team leader.
“One, I just got to lead by example,” Briscoe said. “That’s one thing, and that’s on and off the court. These freshmen came in and they look up to me and even some of the guys (back from) last year look up to me and come up to me for questions and things like that. So my main focus this year, lead a young a group, lead by example on and off the court.”
His job, he said, is to run the team and be a “second coach on the floor.” The big thing Briscoe said he learned from Ulis was that when a team makes a run against you, the point guard’s job is to keep everyone calm.
This is still an area a young player like Briscoe can improve upon. He is becoming the team leader as it begins its summer workouts and looks ahead to the fall and the beginning of the season.
Now Briscoe is the incumbent point guard. The ball will be in his hands more — something he is much more comfortable with. His relationship too with John Calipari has deepened.
The team has become his now as he tries to become a more vocal leader and that second coach on the floor.
“I think our relationship has been a little better,” Briscoe said. “We’ve been meeting probably like once a week, or we’ll text maybe twice a week, just to make sure everybody’s in check and everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to do. He looks to me to make sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to do. So I think he’s trusting me a little bit more than he did last year, and I don’t want to let him down, so I’m just out here doing whatever I have to do to make sure the team is (good).”
The NBA will always be there for Briscoe. The NBA draft site DraftExpress currently has Briscoe as the No. 46 pick in the 2017 Draft. There is plenty of time to climb that draft board.
And plenty of work to do to lead Kentucky in 2017.
Tai Wynyard comfortable with Calipari culture shock
John Calipari can be a pretty demanding coach. The first interaction players have with him can create a bit of a culture shock.
That was no different for spring semester enrollee, New Zealand native and redshirt freshman Tai Wynyard.
“If you screw up, he’s on you,” Wynyard said. “He’s just straight up. At first I was like, ‘Oh, OK. What do I do?’ But then I realized he’s doing it to make me better.”
Wynyard redshirted last year, although there were a few occasions it would appear that Calipari wanted to play the talented 6-foot-10 forward. Wynyard agreed with the decision saying he was not ready for the college game yet as he arrived in Lexington midseason and needed to increase his conditioning.
With Skal Labissiere leaving the team, Wynyard could be a player who helps with Kentucky’s front court.He said he thinks his rebounding ability should help Kentucky. He should have a leg up on the freshman who are coming in too as Kentucky starts its summer workouts..
Briscoe, UK team still have Derek Willis’ back
Not all the news was good as Kentucky gathered to meet the media on Wednesday.
Senior forward Derek Willis was arrested when he was found passed out in the street outside a vehicle allegedly smelling of alcohol. It was a somewhat embarrassing moment for the team and for a player who was just finding his place in Kentucky’s rotation.
His teammates though still support him and have his back as he deals with the consequences of this arrest and his citation.
“We’re all still growing up, we’re still maturing,” Briscoe said. “What happened with Derek, that’s him; that’s personal to him. I still have his back 100 percent. I’m sure the whole team does also. Derek’s a great guy – he’s actually one of my favorites on the team – and I don’t think nobody ever had a problem with him. He made a mistake. He has to deal with it. It’s fine. And I still got his back.”
There is no word if any further consequences will come to Willis from the team as the legal process works out.
SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker contributed to this report.