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By LARRY VAUGHT

Tony Delk was a three-time all-Southeastern Conference performer at Kentucky, played on UK’s 1996 national championship team and scored 1,890 points. He was a first-round NBA draft pick in 1996 and played in the NBA until 1996 before briefly playing in Greece and playing and coaching in Puerto Rico.

He returned to Kentucky to work on the Wildcats’ coaching staff after coach John Calipari took over two years ago.

In part two of a five-part series, he talks about his job, his credibility with players and his relationship with UK’s assistant coaches:

Question: So what all does your job at Kentucky involve?
Delk: “Basically just talking to the players and being more of a mentor than anything and helping out if I can. For me, it’s just learning the game of basketball and seeing if it is something I want to do long-term.
“We have young players that need guys like myself to let them know what it takes to get to the next level and to be honest with the guys and show them that you care.”

Question: Does that mean you are the good guy on the coaching staff?
Delk: “I think I can do that in a good way, but I can be honest, too. You want to be honest with these guys and let them know what they need to work on as a player and individual. You don’t want them to take it personal, but there is a time you get on a guy kind of hard, and you have to know who that player is. Everybody does not respond the same way.”

Question: Does being on a national championship team and playing in the NBA give you credibility with the players?
Delk: “It does. I think that helps me more than anything. You can’t kid me. I know what it takes to get to the next level.
“If a guy is not working hard and just thinks he’s going to walk in and all of a sudden make the NBA, I can tell him it will not be that easy. You have to put in a lot of hard work and once you do, then you get more out of it.”

Question: Then in a small way, do you help fill the void for players that was left by the passing of Bill Keightley since he was always a mentor and friend to the players?
Delk: “I can’t honestly say anybody could replace what he did. When I came in as a freshman and did not play a whole lot, he was definitely a guy that helped me through that transition. That is where he is missed tremendously. He was a father to us guys. We looked up to him and respected him.”

Question: Do you think people forget there was a time when even talented freshmen didn’t get to play that much, especially at Kentucky, and how hard is it to play as a freshman?
Delk: “You go back to the NBA, and the NBA changed as well and went young. That is how college basketball is now. You have AAU and all these talented freshmen coming in expecting to play. Our guys have the last two years, and our best players have been the young guys.
“I think being that young at this level can have the pressure build up on you but I think we have done, and they are doing, a good job of handling the pressure.”

Question: What do you try to learn from Calipari’s other assistant coaches?
Delk: “I think just seeing how they interact with players. That’s always the key. Just seeing how they relate to kids and how they have done it from the late 90s to now.
“All players are different, and you have to find your niche and what you do for each and every player. And what is important is that you show these guys you care about them and that there is nothing you won’t do for them.”

Question: What new things have they helped you with?
Delk: “Breaking down film is something I started doing about midseason last year. I would watch film, do scouting reports.
“Recruiting is more about conversations and just being able to interact with people. Being honest with parents. If you can do something to help their kid, that is what they want to hear — and it is not always about basketball. It can be about academics as well. Everybody is not going to play on the next level.”

Question: Do you think recruiting will be easy for you?
Delk: “I do think I know a lot of people, and the bulk of recruiting is who you know. Being able to get out there and being visible is key.
“If you have a good program and good kid, I think the kid will want to go to the program that will give himself the best chance to get to the next level, but also to be seen and be visible. There’s not only basketball in the United States, but also there is basketball all over the world.”

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