By LARRY VAUGHT
Ashton Hagans knew coming to Kentucky was the right decision for him. But if even had the smallest doubt, it went away when the Wildcats got ready for their exhibition games in the Bahamas.
“We loved it. At practice we were taking each other’s heads off. It was crazy,” said the freshman guard. “Cal was like these guys are ready to fight. We were just anxious. We were waiting on game day and finally getting a chance to go play.
“Before games we were in our rooms together talking about what we could do to be the best team possible … and it was only August. Everybody was happy for each other when we played. It was amazing. I thought it would be good here but it’s even better than I imagined.”
Freshman guard Tyler Herro led Kentucky in scoring with 17.3 points per game in the Bahamas as well as 3-pointers made, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage.
“A lot more people know me on campus now after the Bahamas,” Herro said. “Walking around now people will stop and ask to take a picture or get an autograph, which is fine. The whole atmosphere is crazy. I was told BBN had the best fans in the country but now that I am in it I really realize how crazy they are in a good way and how crazy this year is going to be.”
Count freshman Keldon Johnson in the group that underestimated the support of UK fans until the team played in the Bahamas. He got a taste of what UK fans were like when he played at the Marshall County Hoopfest during his senior year at Oak Hill Academy but wasn’t ready for the turnout in the Bahamas.
“Wherever we go, the fans go. When we went to the Bahamas, I was like, ‘Whoa. There are a lot of Kentucky fans here and it’s not cheap,’” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say they are crazy but they love Kentucky and I love them for that.”
Freshman EJ Montgomery was taken aback like Johnson was that so many fans spent the money it took to watch UK play in the Bahamas and admits he cannot imagine the support the players will get at Big Blue Madness Friday.
However, he also said the Bahamas trip was good for the players.
“It was very big for us to bond more. We were already close but that trip just made us closer,” Montgomery said. “We had a lot of fun there. I was watching (he did not play in three of the game because of a back injury) but I learned a lot from watching and from just being around the guys.”
Freshman guard Immanuel Quickley was with Montgomery on the bonding value in the Bahamas.
“We were hanging out in our rooms, playing video games, having fun,” Quickley said. “On the court we were playing and getting better every game and beating all those teams.”
Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis said he could “fly under the weather” before he got to Kentucky where basketball is always a focus of many fans.
“The first week here I went out to eat and fans were asking me for pictures and autographs,” Travis said. “I never had to deal with that before. Personally, that just gives me encouragement to go out there and make those fans proud knowing how much they care about basketball.”
It didn’t take long for him to understand basketball-wise what a difference there was being at Kentucky, too.
“It took one workout to make me know why I came here,” Travis said. “It’s not a knock on Stanford, or any program. But it’s just unique here to have so many high level players together in the gym every day. You have to bring your game every day to the highest level or you will get embarrassed. But even then everybody is happy and pulling for each. There’s no place else like this and I just think that we have a chance to have a really special season.”