When my buddy Mark asked if I wanted to help him out with a photo shoot a few weeks ago, I jumped at the chance. This wasn’t just any photo shoot. He wanted me to assist him in herding some cats, the UK basketball variety. He was tasked with getting early shots of the basketball team for some preseason national publications, and he knew I was at least somewhat familiar with the players’ names and stories. It also didn’t hurt that I own some dependable portable studio equipment including a large black backdrop and stand that could be easily transported and set up at the Joe Craft Center.
The Craft Center practice gym isn’t exactly the best background for nice pictures. It’s basically the size of a middle school gym with lots of distracting pictures and banners on the wall. This, together with the fact that there are about 5 or 6 media outlets stationed around the floor trying to get groups of 19 year olds to pose and stand still long enough to get anything printable makes this day a significant challenge.
We assembled the dream team of Mark (the experienced professional photographer), Doug (a UK basketball knowledge wizard and self-proclaimed recruiting expert), and me (the designated Cat herder and self-proclaimed sports psychologist). We arrived several hours early to set up, map out our game plan, and take some practice shots.
If you need some good quality stock photos of some old dudes with basketballs, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Soon, we were ready to go.
The players would rotate to the different media outlets in groups (newcomers, veterans, and walk-ons, then frontcourt and backcourt) and we’d have a few minutes with each group to get our shots. Basically I would try to track down the players, get them to quit shooting baskets or playing on their phones, and try to make them comfortable and get them to pose. Mark would take pictures while Doug helped out by moving stands and strobes and confirming we had the right players in the right types of shots. It was hectic, but I think we did about the best that we could under the circumstances. Mark’s photos have been seen all over the internet and in national publications, and I think he was happy with the help we provided.
I also had the benefit of interacting with the players, and at least getting to talk to them and know them a little better. With any extra time we had at the end of each mini-session, I tried to make conversation and take a few of my own portraits of the players. Since you don’t often see dramatic portrait-type photos of student-athletes, I thought I’d channel my inner Annie Leibowitz and try to get some striking images (hard to do when you are pressed for time, but I certainly tried). My photos have been embargoed for a couple of weeks, but now that sufficient time has passed, and all the media outlets are releasing their photos, I’d figure I’d post a few so any readers of this blog can get a preview of the 2017-2018 Kentucky Wildcats, and see some never-before-seen portraits of the players with a few observations from me.
First the returning veterans:
Wenyen GabrielThe 6-9 sophomore originally from the Sudan has noticeably bulked up since last season, and as our only returning player with any significant game experience, he will be a key component to our success this year. Insiders tell me he has really improved, and I believe his emergence will play a huge role this season.
Sacha Killeya-JonesThe 6-10 sophomore from Chapel Hill, NC is a former McDonald’s All-American with the body and skill set of a star player. His lack of playing time was one of last season’s big mysteries, so we all can hope that he has taken the next step to contribute this season in a meaningful way.
Tai WynyardThe 6-10 sophomore from Auckland New Zealand is the son of a world-champion lumberjack. He’s also a lumberjack himself, and considers his axe his most prized possession. His big body and strength should be an asset to this team.
Brad CalipariThis was not a posed shot…it’s an action shot. The 6-0 guard, son of our coach, was just joking around while I was fiddling with the camera settings, and I surprised him when I snapped this picture at the exact split second that he kissed the ball. He saw the strobe go off, and he knew that I had caught him. He sheepishly asked, “Did you really get that?” I showed him the picture on the LED screen of my camera and he laughed.
The Walk-OnsI asked Jonny David, Brad Calipari and Dillon Pulliam to pose together. They were a little stiff and camera shy, so I suggested they put their arms around each other and “pretend that you like each other.” It’s obvious they actually do like each other, as they were joking around and having a good time with all the media attention.
And now the newcomers:
Hamidou Diallo Although he practiced with the team last year and sat on the bench with the team for the last half of the year, the 6-5 freshman guard from Queens, NY was grouped with the newcomers. A freakish athlete with a long wingspan and an incredible vertical leap, Diallo should quickly become a crowd favorite.
Quade GreenThe next in line in the string of talented UK point guards is the 6-0 freshman from Philadelphia. Coach Cal says it is unfair to compare him to Tyler Ulis, but by saying this he basically is comparing him to Tyler Ulis. He must be good.
Jarred VanderbiltDo you see that bicep?!!! And that smile? Far and away the most gregarious, outgoing and easily photogenic player I shot that day, the 6-9 freshman from Houston stood out to me, and quickly became my favorite player on the team. Unfortunately, he is out for up to 3 months with a foot injury.
Nick RichardsA 6-11 freshman from Kingston, Jamaica, he is said to be a bit raw offensively but is another freak athlete as a big man who can run the floor, block shots, grab rebounds, and finish other-wordly alley-oops in the style of Willie Cauley-Stein. He’s the rim-protector that we desperately needed last year.
Kevin KnoxArguably the most heralded freshman in this class of heralded freshmen, this 6-9 big man from Tampa, FL with the size 18 shoe should start for the Wildcats and make a big impact on college basketball this year.
Jemarl BakerThis 6-4 freshman from Menifee, CA should add much needed 3-point shooting accuracy to this team of slashing athletes.
Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderThe 6-6 freshman from Hamilton, Ontario played soccer growing up, and was MVP of the Kentucky Derby Festival all-star game last spring. He’s tall and long for a guard, and should add some quality depth in the backcourt.
PJ WashingtonThe 6-7 freshman from Dallas has been compared to Charles Barkley by his teammates because of his relentless motor. He’s powerful and explosive, and John Calipari says he’s one of the alpha dogs on the team, a vocal leader who already was coached by Cal in Egypt over the summer.
OK, there you have it, Dr. Mike’s quick photographic guide to this year’s team. You’ll see them in person soon. I hope you’re as excited as me. Go Cats!
Dr. Michael Huang is a freelance photographer who has contributed to Tops in Lexington, the Cats Pause and Kentucky Sport Radio. Check out his continuing series of photos of UK fans with stories in their own words here at heartofbbn.com.