LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Tai Wynyard hopes his experience overseas last summer leads to a breakout campaign this season.
“Definitely the opportunity is there,” he said. “I’m going to take it and really push myself this year, really try to become the player I want to be.”
Wynyard was impressive in the FIBA U19 World Cup in Egypt last summer, where he averaged 14.3 points per game and grabbed 9.3 rebounds per contest for New Zealand. His final scoring tally ranked him fourth in the tournament, while he was ninth overall in the rebounding department. He posted three straight double doubles in the summer event.
“It was a lot of fun,” Wynyard said. “Being able to see all the ayers I used to play against back home and in general getting to play with them again (was enjoyable). I enjoyed seeing a lot of playing time and going out there and showing everyone what I can do.”
Wynyard hopes the noted improvement carries over into his sophomore campaign with the Wildcats. Wynyard said his performances in the World Cup gave him an added boost on the court.
“My biggest improvement was just backing myself and being more confident in myself, ready to go out there, play as hard as I can and do really well.”
Although relatively a veteran, Wynyard isn’t comfortable being one of the team leaders just yet.
“I’m still young, so I’m still learning everything as well,” he said. “I play more so international ball, so the guys coming in play a lot more American ball than I ever have. They know the culture and that kind of stuff over here, more so than I do. Even so, I’m still learning everything.”
Wynyard said the difference in styles has been an adjustment in his two seasons with the Wildcats.
“American basketball is a lot more fast-paced and push the ball a lot more,” Wynyard said. “European style of basketball and New Zealand style is more like get through the motion, pass, pass, pass and look for the open teammate. It’s a little bit different, but mostly the same thing.”
Wynyard admitted he’s “going to have to learn faster” to stay ahead of the newcomers this season, but said playing against last year’s freshman class helped elevate his own game.
“‘Playing against (De’Aaron Fox, Malik (Monk) and Bam (Adebayo), who went in the first round, helped me,” he said. “I went up against Bam a lot last year just defensively and that kind of stuff, so that was a lot of fun for me. I was able to body up against him and use my strength and just tried to stop him every time.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.