Scout.com/Jeff Drummond

Wynyard working hard to crack Calipari's rotation for Kentucky Wildcats

When Kentucky fans got their long-awaited first glimpse of Tai Wynyard on the court for the Wildcats, he looked like a masked Avenger.

The burly 6-foot-10 center/forward from New Zealand was wearing a protective mask for UK's two exhibition games after taking a blow to the face during practice.

"It's horrible playing with that mask on," he said after the Cats' 156-63 romp over Asbury College. "It's like trying to play with two little goggles, you know, trying to look around.

"Hopefully, I won't have to wear it too much longer. I've been trying to get the doctors to just let me play without it. If they hit me in the face, it's all right. But they're just trying to protect me and make sure I don't need surgery."

If Wynyard had it his way, he would have preferred a Dark Knight look.

"I want to get a black (mask) so I can be like Batman," he said with a huge grin that suggested he's having a ball getting his first game action with the Cats, exhibition or not.

The Kiwi standout enrolled in January of 2016, but UK head coach John Calipari elected to redshirt him in order to let the young post player get more acclimated to the American collegiate game. When he arrived in Lexington, it was clear that he had a nice overall skills, but his footwork and conditioning needed work.

On Sunday against Asbury, Wynyard showed some of the work he's done. He had 10 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in 11 minutes of action against the smaller NAIA opponent, numbers that Big Blue Nation were excited to see, but also numbers that he admitted came with a blush.

"Today's game was hard to post up with all the little guys," said the son of a world champion lumberjack. "I didn't want o hurt them. But coach has really been on us about posting up hard because having both an inside and outside game is really huge in basketball. If you have both aspects of the game, no one can really stop you."

After the final exhibition, Calipari said he was comfortable with a rotation of "eight or nine" players going into the season. It's unclear if Wynyard will have a shot to crack that during the first portion of the season, but he knows what he needs to do in order to get in the mix alongside teammates Bam Adebayo, Isaac Humphries, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel in the UK frontcourt. 

"Just going in there hard, trying to get every rebound that I can, garbage buckets, anything I can. That's pretty much what I do," Wynyard said. "I'm working my butt off just trying to get better and impress coach.

"It's just really fun to be able to play now and feel like I'm part of the team."

Kentucky opens the regular season on Friday at Rupp Arena against Stephen F. Austin. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.


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