Walk-ons still enjoying the perks of Kentucky basketball


Kentucky Wildcats guard Brad Calipari #12 and guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #22 shake hands during the Blue/White game on Friday, October 20, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Blue won 88-67. Photo by Chase Phillips | Staff

Cody Ryan

Even though Brad Calipari, Jonny David and Dillon Pulliam aren’t the scholarship athletes who attract most fans to watch UK basketball, the opportunity to play at a prestigious basketball school like the University of Kentucky is a dream come true.

Being on the same team and making friends with some of the best basketball players in the world is another benefit of playing basketball for the Wildcats.

“Getting to be around guys like this and guys last year like (De’Aaron) Fox, Malik (Monk), Bam (Adebayo), Dominique (Hawkins), all those guys,” Pulliam said. “In my first year, Jamal (Murray), getting to play against those pros and just make lifelong friends, which has been really fun.”

At most schools, walk-on athletes don’t get recognized by most fans. At UK, fans treat any UK basketball players like celebrities. While they may not be Kevin Knox or Hamidou Diallo, they’re very recognizable.

Sometimes walk-ons don’t mind being overshadowed by the scholarship athletes.

“It’s kind of nice sometimes, after games I can just sit there and they’ll do the media and stuff and I’m just, ‘Good, I can go,’” David said.

Experiencing amazing trips is an advantage of walking-on at UK. Since the Cats are always ranked high in the preseason polls, top-tier tournaments often invite the UK basketball squad.

“Also the traveling I guess is real nice, I never thought I’d be going to the Bahamas and stuff last year, and Vegas, which it’s amazing to be able to go,” David said.

Calipari has a relationship with the head basketball coach that is unlike many other college basketball players: Coach John Calipari is his dad. Whether Brad is a walk-on or scholarship athlete, his dad is going to push him to work hard, if not harder.

“It was good, it was different than I might’ve thought, but at the same time he pushed me harder than a lot of guys, and he still wants me to see – he wants to see me be great, and I think that’s why he pushed me so much harder than these other guys,” Brad said.

Walk-ons might not get much playing time on an elite basketball program, but they will usually be a member of a championship-caliber basketball team.

“Last year, we made a run to the Elite Eight; obviously we wanted to make it a little farther, we thought we had the chance to compete for a championship, but it was still a fun ride,” Pulliam said.

But walking-on at UK isn’t always fun and games. Sometimes sacrifices and hard work are essential to earn minutes.

“You got to be able to show you can play in practice, then that translates getting into the game,” Brad said.

While UK basketball walk-ons in the Coach Calipari era know they probably won’t get much playing time, enjoying the process of being a UK basketball player can be just as fun.