He’s an adult in a locker room full of kids.
But Reid Travis isn’t a coach.
He wears the same blue-and-white Kentucky uniforms his Wildcats teammates wear and his goal is the same as theirs: Beating third-seeded Houston in Friday’s Sweet 16 Midwest Region semifinal and then whomever comes next — either top-seeded North Carolina or fifth-seeded Auburn — getting to the Final Four and winning a national championship.
Travis is no different from most of his Kentucky teammates in that he’s a one-and-done player with NBA dreams. But he’s a much different one-and-done than they are.
He’s a mature 23-year-old graduate transfer from Stanford, where he was a three-year captain, playing alongside a band of freshmen on this Kentucky team, the second seed in the Midwest. He’s been playing college basketball since 2014, when most of his teammates were high school freshmen.
Travis in his own way, is playing the part of Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School,’’ except unlike Dangerfield’s character, Reid didn’t come to Kentucky to party and score dates with co-eds, he came on a mission: to win a national championship and raise his NBA profile.
“He’s a huge part of our team, he’s a leader, he’s a fifth-year guy and we can look up to him as freshmen,’’ freshman guard Tyler Herro said.
Travis graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science, technology and society from Stanford and explored entering the 2018 draft. But after working out for several teams, he was told by NBA scouts that he might drop to the second round or go undrafted. So he transferred to Kentucky with hopes of further developing himself for the next level.
Travis, who was injured in his sophomore year at Stanford and played in only eight games, was granted a medical redshirt, which enabled him to be eligible for this special year at Kentucky.
Kentucky coach John Calipari is usually known as a cradle-robber with freshman-laden teams. When Travis expressed interest in coming to Kentucky for a last hurrah to his college career, Calipari was all in.
“When he said, ‘I’d like to come with you,’ I said, ‘Come on, we’ll figure this out,’ ’’ Calipari said.
And so they have.
“[Calipari] felt like he could really help me take the next step in my game as far as developing myself and getting to where I wanted to be in a year’s time,” Travis said.
For player and program, it’s been a win-win.The 6-foot-8, 238-pound Travis was a significant factor in Kentucky’s first two NCAA Tournament games — wins over Abilene Christian and Wofford. His sights are on a Final Four, which happens to be in Minneapolis, his hometown.
His role has become even more critical with Kentucky’s leading scorer, PJ Washington, having missed the first two NCAA games with a foot injury, and Washington’s status is unclear entering Friday’s game.
“I’ve had a ball coaching him,’’ Calipari said. “Every time I see him when I walk in the gym, Travis, I smile. I know he’s going to give us everything he can. He is so focused, works so hard, gives everything he can. He’s wired and driven all the time.’’
In the moments before the Wildcats took the court to play Abilene Christian, Calipari said he “grabbed’’ Travis and told him: “You’ve prepared your whole life for this. Have a ball, man. Have a ball.”
He did, scoring 18 points and adding nine rebounds. He was even better against dangerous Wofford, scoring a team-high 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds and becoming a significant help factor in shutting down Wofford’s prolific shooter Fletcher Magee.
Now, as the march pushes deeper into March, Travis’ plan to transfer to Kentucky looks more brilliant by the minute. He’s successfully raised his profile, averaging 11.4 points and 6.9 per game and he still has that coveted national championship in his sights.
“Him being so much older than a lot of us, we ask him for a lot of advice,’’ freshman guard Keldon Johnson said.
“He’s helped us, but he’s helped himself in this,’’ Calipari said. “He’s really put himself in a great position.’’
That was the plan all along.