Wildcats visit Picadome Elementary, practice servant leadership

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The school year is about a month old, but the Kentucky men’s basketball team has already made lasting memories for students at Picadome Elementary School in Lexington.

Kentucky’s Jemarl Baker, Jonny David, Hamidou Diallo, Wenyen Gabriel, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt and Tai Wynyard went to Picadome Elementary on Friday afternoon to deliver packed lunches as part of the God’s Pantry program.

After delivering the lunches, the Wildcats went down to the gymnasium and played games with the students. The Wildcats played duck-duck-goose with the younger students, then moved on to a relay race with students slightly older, and finally had some fun in a basketball game with the oldest elementary students. The visit concluded with a dunk contest, including Diallo jumping over the principal for a dunk.

The Wildcats went through a dunk contest for the kids at Picadome Elementary on Friday. (photo by Quinn Foster, UK Athletics)

“Anytime we can put a smile on somebody’s face it excites us as well,” Vanderbilt said. “We had a great time, had a lot of fun and we’re just glad we had the opportunity to do stuff like this.”

Gabriel, the Wildcats’ most experienced player this upcoming season, threw down a few dunks, had an omnipresent smile on his face and was constantly waving his hands to have the students get louder.

“Yeah, I was just being a kid, trying to spread some energy around,” Gabriel said. “I think they were having fun so we were having fun too.”

It’s the eighth consecutive year that UK Athletics has partnered with God’s Pantry of Lexington to help pack and distribute food-filled grocery bags to kids across Fayette County. By the end of the 2017-18 school year, 5,700 lunches will be delivered.

Vanderbilt and Gabriel both said they didn’t have an opportunity like this when they were growing up where basketball players – legitimate celebrities, in this case – came to their school to play games and interact with them. With that in mind, they agreed that Friday’s visit meant even more.

“I think it just always has more meaning when there’s a physical presence there,” Gabriel said. “I mean, I think a lot of the communication we have is more than just words. It’s being there, the way you move, your demeanor, the way you interact with people, that’s where most of the meaning comes from. I think coming in person makes a big difference.”

It also gave the young Wildcats a chance to practice Servant Leadership 101. One of the three pillars of head coach John Calipari’s program, servant leadership will be extra important for the 2017-18 season as Calipari will be coaching his youngest team yet. The visit, Gabriel said, offered the seven Wildcats an early season bonding opportunity.

Perhaps best of all, it was nearly impossible to tell whether the elementary school students or the Wildcats were having the most fun.

“One of the things Cal preaches is servant leadership,” Gabriel said. “That’s one of the things he wants to teach us, for us to come over here and show these kids how it is to be positive, have a smile on your face and be kind. Seeing how excited they got about being around us was real great for us and great for them. Both ways.”