This is the first in a series of profile stories on the Kentucky men’s basketball team.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Nate Sestina likes to talk and John Calipari doesn’t mind have another voice on the court.
“It's nice having a veteran that talks,” the Kentucky coach said. “I mean he over talks, he tries to get the guys to talk.”
Sestina is used to being a vocal leader and said playing four years at Bucknell “has really helped me out.”
“Just talking through everything you do, even if you’re on the sidelines — talk through and help the other guys so they can see what it’s like to communicate,” he said. “(I’m) showing the difference between communicating and not communicating and the difference between if you communicate if the drill is great, and if you don’t, the drill is terrible.”
For Sestina, he doesn’t mind being a team leader and guiding his new teammates — both newcomers and veterans along. Sestina spent the past four seasons at Bucknell, where he was the team’s second-leading scorer last season, averaging 15.8 points per game. He also led the team and the Patriot League with 8.5 rebounds per game.
“I’m coming in with a smaller spotlight, but with more of a pressure to lead,” he said. “The pressure for me doesn’t bother me. I’ve been a leader on a team for the last two to three years and I think I did a pretty good job of doing that at Bucknell. I’m trying to keep these guys on the right path and get to where we need to get to.”
Although a veteran, Sestina, who is coming off a foot injury, says he is in the best shape of his life and has trimmed down to 234 pounds. He is also eating better, which he also said his attributed to his current conditioning level.
“Once I was able to start running I was able to lose a lot of weight, and I feel good,” he said. “It’s not like I feel light or I feel weak. I feel the best I’ve ever felt, and I played college basketball for four years, and I haven’t felt this good, so I’m feeling pretty confident.”
Sestina has noticed a difference since recovering from the injury and eating better, especially on the court.
“I’m able to stay with guys that are smaller than me,” he said. “I’m not able to stay in front of them by any means, but I’m able to stay with quicker guards and contest shots instead of letting them go in for layups and things like that. In July, they were blowing by me and now I am able to stay with them a little bit and I’m continuing to work on that.”
Although a veteran, the move to Kentucky has required a few adjustments when it comes to practice and getting used to the speed of the game.
“You have to be ready to go every day,” Sestina said. “We have practice on the weekends and they’re hard. You fight in every minute of practice and for me, I mentally prepare myself a week in advance, they’re going to be hard, they’re going to be long and that’s something I have carried over into what I have been doing.
“You have to be ready to go at all times. Even when you’re on the sideline catching a break. You never know what could happen. A guy gets tired, you have to be ready to go.”
Calipari said Sestina “can play some 5, but if you play him at 5 you're going to stretch the court with him as a 5” and said the Kentucky coach has been pleased with Sestina during preseason workouts.”
“He's good in the post,” Calipari said. “Reid (Travis) was just a physical (presence) — Nate lost 25 pounds. So he's at, what, 235 right now and physically in great shape and running and he's really been a great addition to this group.”
Because of his size and versatility, Sestina said he’s “able to stretch the floor out and see stuff before it happens.”
“I feel like as a big man, I am a pretty good passer and I’m an unselfish teammate,” he said. “I’ll catch it on a pick-and-roll and may not have an open shot but I will see someone (open) and find the open guy.”
Sestina added he has been impressed with his teammates and he’s part of a squad that he said is capable of doing “something really, really special.”
“We have a group of guys that are hard-working and diligent in what they do,” he said. “We have guys that are laser-focused every day and I had that at Bucknell and two years in a row we won back-to-back championships and I am really hoping we can do the same thing here.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.