Floreal follows father to UK to ‘play with the best’

E. J. Floreal, left, goofing off with Dominique Hawkins, right, during basketball photo media day in Lexington, Ky., on Thursday, September 12, 2013. Photo by Eleanor Hasken l Staff

By Nick Gray | Sports editor

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Freshman walk-on guard E.J. Floreal has been through a long, winding road to become the final member of this year’s freshman class, and he has his father to thank for help on his journey.

Floreal trudged off the court on Feb. 27, 2012 in California after Palo Alto High School’s overtime loss to St. Francis High School that ended his junior season.

Unbeknownst to him, that would be his final high school basketball game in California. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound guard was born in Atlanta, Ga., and grew up in Palo Alto, Calif., where his father, UK track and field director Edrick Floreal, coached with Stanford University from 1998 to 2012.

E.J. Floreal was a basketball and track and field athlete as he progressed through high school. He was a key cog his junior year on his school’s basketball team, adding 19 points in the final game against St. Francis.

E.J. Floreal moved from Palo Alto, Calif. to Lexington prior to his senior year, where he averaged 12.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. His senior season earned E.J. Floreal interest from the University of Tennessee along with mid-major Division I programs, including Western Kentucky University, Santa Clara University and the California Polytechnic Institution.

But he decided to attend UK as a walk-on early in the summer, mostly due to the players he would play with during practices and workouts.

“I want to play with the best, be with the best and learn from the best. And there’s no other way to do that but at Kentucky,” E.J. Floreal said. “To learn from All-Americans, national champions, ex-All-Americans, you have to want to go to Kentucky. You have to want to go here.”

Edrick Floreal credited head coach John Calipari and the way he runs the program as to why he felt comfortable letting his son play in the program.

“I don’t think anyone at the University of Kentucky can handle (the pressure of being a basketball player at UK) or generally want to handle that,” Edrick Floreal said. “(Calipari) and I are friends. I really like his coaching philosophy. That’s very important that he plays for a coach that I know can coach the game and can also educate and build up character.”

E.J. Floreal echoed his father’s thoughts. “(Calipari) seems like he always has our backs, no matter what,” he said. “That type of coach-player relationship always is going to take us far.”

Edrick Floreal said when his son jogs onto the Rupp Arena floor for the first time with the words “Kentucky” across his chest, the feeling will be the same as watching his son play in high school. He said being from the world of sports, it isn’t a big deal to him.

“He has to work hard to get himself into that moment,” Edrick Floreal said of his son. “I’ll feel pride when he’s successful.”