By LARRY VAUGHT
Ask Reid Travis a question, you are going to get a concise, honest answer. It’s also going to be an intelligent answer.
That’s why it was no surprise he gave more than a one or two word answer Sunday when asked about his knowledge of the Duke players he will be facing tonight when Kentucky plays Duke in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
“If you have social media, you watch ESPN, you get a good sense as far as who they have on their team. They have a lot of firepower, a lot of star players and things like that,” Travis said. “A lot of respect for the recruiting class they brought in. They also have some veterans.
“I just know how their coaching staff prepares guys and how they recruit and the type of guys that they bring in. I have a lot of respect for the team and the program they have there. I know it’s going to be a tough task for us, it’s going to be a challenge for us, it’s going to push us and I think we couldn’t ask for anything more for our first game.”
Yes, yes and yes. Everything he says resonates about tonight’s game, which certainly is no surprise if you have been around Travis.
“When a coach talk, sometimes guys listen, sometimes they don’t,” UK Radio Network analyst Mike Pratt, a former UK All-American, said. “When Calipari is talking, he is looking at Calipari. He never takes his eyes off Calipari. That tells me he wants to learn. He is attentive and trying to learn all he can.
“This kid is in tune every time you see him. He has improved his game since Kentucky played in the Bahamas. He lost a few pounds and just kept working and working. He’s a special kid.”
ESPN analyst Dick Vitale picked Kansas as his No. 1 team going into the season. But he would not be shocked to see Kentucky win the title and thinks UK will be a handful for Duke tonight in part because of Travis.
“Kentucky is really good and could be special because of depth, veterans for a change and terrific young players,” Vitale said. “Having veteran players helps so much and a guy like Travis is so mature. It’s his fifth year and he’s like a double-double machine. He could be huge against Duke.
“Duke does not have the depth or veterans that Kentucky does. Washington is great. Richards could be great this year. Quade is really good. They all have winning experience. Then you add in those new kids. It’s all good for Kentucky.”
Travis feels the same. He said the best way to start the season is to get “thrown into the fire right away” to see just where Kentucky is starting the season.
“We have a lot of things we need to work on still, but being able to use this as a measuring stick, I think, is going to be great for us,” Travis said.
While Kentucky did not recruit Travis — a McDonald’s All-American — out of high school, Duke did. The Minnesota two-sport standout took a visit to Duke before deciding to attend Stanford.
“I did the whole process with them. Really liked it a lot. It’s a great school, but ultimately I decided to go to Stanford,” Travis said.
He also considered transferring to Duke this season because of the program’s tradition.
“I think I’d be naïve not to look their direction, too, when you’re trying to make a decision like that. But ultimately I ended up at Kentucky. But I have a lot of respect for what they do,” Travis said.
Travis’ biggest regular-season game in four years at Stanford came at Kansas where the “hype and crowd” made an impact on him.
“It felt like the rims were shaking in there, so it was a great experience to play against those guys,” Travis said.
That helped convince him that his final season of college basketball needed to be special like it will be at Kentucky.
“To play on the big stage, to play in big games like the one we have Tuesday, to play in front of a packed crowd at Rupp, that’s definitely something I wanted. I wanted to be on that stage and enjoy that atmosphere,” Travis said.
Tonight he’ll step on that big stage and if the game goes the way I think, Travis will enjoy it as much as UK fans will enjoy watching him help Kentucky open the season with a win.