The University of Kentucky men’s basketball team made a stop at Elizabethtown’s Charlie Rawlings Memorial Gymnasium Thursday.
The Wildcats were on hand for the John Calipari Satellite Camp Tour.
“To come out here and show love to the community is important to us,” sophomore guard Ashton Hagans said. “A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to come to the games in Lexington, so we come out here to sign everything that we can, take every picture that we can. We couldn’t do this when we were younger, so we’re just trying to give back.”
John Robic completed his third season with the Kentucky basketball program as the special assistant to the head coach in 2018-19 and is a long-time associate of Calipari, including the first seven seasons at Kentucky as an assistant coach.
Robic has been Calipari’s right-hand man throughout their careers. In his current role, Robic scouts future opponents, helps Calipari with game plans, breaks down film with Calipari, and carries out special projects and assignments from the head coach.
“These are important for us to touch people in different towns throughout the state that may not have a chance to get to Lexington,” Robic said. “Some (towns) we hit because of the popularity, like here, this is a big draw. We try to choose other towns every year that we’ve never been.”
Per NCAA rules, the Wildcats must stay within state lines and within 100 miles of Lexington.
The camps stress fundamentals.
“They’re not taught enough and we try to do that in a very, very short amount of time,” Robic said. “At our camps on campus we really try to work fundamentals because you have three or four days. I believe everybody is worried about shooting the three-point shot or trying to dunk the ball. Fundamentals are lacking.”
The three-point line in college is being moved from 20 feet, 9 inches to 22 feet, 1¾ inches beginning next season.
“I think the midrange came will come back with the lengthening of the three-point line,” Robic said.
Nick Richards declared for the NBA Draft, but will return to the Wildcats for junior season.
“It’s good for us to give back to the communities, give back to the kids and help them improve their basketball skills,” said Richards, who averaged four points and 3.3 rebounds per game with a team-high 47 blocked shots. “It gives me a chance to know the fans a little bit better and for them to know me as more than a basketball player.”
Nate Sestina is a graduate transfer from Bucknell and the 6-foot-9 forward loves his new surroundings.
“It’s crazy. It’s been great,” he said. “We love them and they love us. We’re out here doing all these camps trying to meet a lot of people and trying to create more of a fan base. I love this. There’s a lot more kids here at camps than at Bucknell. I love this.
“I was looking at a place where every day is a push to get better, to compete in practice. We’re competing for a national championship every year and I wanted to go to a place where winning is in the forefront of everything. That’s what it was like for me at Bucknell and that’s why I went there.
“When I was getting recruited I was looking at what teams were successful year in and year out and you can’t really beat UK.”
Incoming freshman Tyrese Maxey was front and center when working with the campers.
“We get enjoyment with the fans and the little kids,” he said. “You always give back to the community. That’s what my mom told me and that’s what Coach Cal says and that’s what we’re doing.”
His infectious personality was on display Thursday.
“I got it from my mom and my day, a mix of both of them,” he said. “They’re both outgoing. Me being a point guard and the leader of the team, I think I have to be outgoing with these guys, especially being new. We played pickup yesterday and I was being outgoing, being myself.
“I think I’m a natural born leader and feel like others will feed off my energy. You have to be able to have a smile on your face every single day, no matter what’s going on the inside. I think that really helps us as a team and individuals.”
The Wildcats are coming off a 30-7 season that ended with a 77-71 loss to Auburn in the Elite 8.
“I’m proud of all these guys,” Calipari said to the crowd at the end of camp. “They’re all on different paths. Some will leave early and some will stay two or three years. Last year’s team was, one, a bunch of great guys, terrific players, all wired and driven. I didn’t have to drag that team. I ran with that team and that’s what makes this fun.
“Understand that when you come to Kentucky, you’re supposed to win every game by 20 points and if you don’t, what’s wrong. How about if you lose three or four in a row, oh my gosh. Every game you play is sold out. When you go into an opponent’s arena, I’ll look at the game they played four or five days before us, they’ll have 5 or 6,000 kids. Five days later when we play them, they have 18,000 and they have tents outside.
“Every game we play is someone’s Super Bowl.
“These kids are in the spotlight. It’s hard and it’s a challenge and then they choose to come here and play against other good players, which even makes it harder. We end up having great kids and that’s why I’m blessed to have a job like this.”