Some people say once you leave you can never go home again. Try telling that to Twany Beckham.
From the conclusion of Beckham’s high school career in the 2007 Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena, throughout his stint in Starkville, Miss., with the Mississippi State program, a soft spot for the University of Kentucky has existed deep within the heart of the Bluegrass native.
As a graduate of Ballard High School (Louisville) and childhood friend of former UK point guard and current Boston Celtic Rajon Rondo, Beckham grew up, as he describes it, as “one of those (passionate, Big Blue) fans.”
So when Beckham decided to transfer midway through last season, he decided to try his luck with the one place he always wanted to be.
“I was looking at several schools, but I felt like what better way to come back home and have a chance than to play for Kentucky,” Beckham said. “I reached out to Coach Cal. I came up here and met with him and he told me to come here and work hard. He didn’t promise me anything. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Beckham had already gone through a couple of address changes since the end of his high school career. He had played a season of prep ball at the New Hampton School in New Hampshire before earning a scholarship at Mississippi State.
Suffice it to say, after a couple of years in Starkville and the pit stop in the Northeast, plenty of time had passed since Beckham called Kentucky his home. For Beckham, however, nothing had changed. Big Blue was still in his heart.
“I grew up wanting to play for Kentucky,” Beckham said. “It was one of those things I always dreamed about.”
Coach Cal agreed to let him join the team in January under the condition that he would earn everything he got. As a midseason transfer, Beckham was forced to sit out the remainder of last year, but he was able to practice with the team and get accustomed to the program.
He took advantage of that time and heeded Calipari’s advice. In less than a year, Beckham turned that initial walk-on agreement into a scholarship. Now there’s a belief that the junior can be a contributor this season.
Freshman sensation Marquis Teague figures to be the early season starter at point guard, but behind him is a spot up for grabs. While Doron Lamb has shown that he can play minutes at the point, he thrived most of last year at shooting guard.
Coach Cal doesn’t like to get into labeling and categorizing positions – ahem, see John Wall and Eric Bledsoe in 2009-10 – but there’s little doubt that he’d like to have a true backup point guard to free up Lamb to do what he does best.
Could that be Beckham?
At 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, he certainly has the size to play Division I basketball. And after playing spells of two seasons at Mississippi State, where he played in 33 games as a freshman and started five games last year (he missed the 2009-10 season after having surgery to remove bone spurs in both his hips), the 22-year-old has the experience to play in the Southeastern Conference.
“I’ve been in college basketball for two-and-a-half years so I feel like I can be a leader to some of these freshmen,” Beckham says when asked the role he envisions for himself this season. “I’ve got some experience, I’m tough, like to play defense, and I’m really unselfish and like to pass the ball. I think my teammates are really going to love playing with me once I get implemented into the system.”
A pass-first point guard who has molded his game after his buddy Rondo, Beckham believes he fits right into Calipari’s offense.
“I’m really kind of a dribble-drive guy,” he says.
Coincidentally, Beckham somewhat resembles Rondo. He’s long and lean, and word has it he can defend.
As if the likeness and relationship weren’t enough, Beckham credits Rondo with helping his game. In pickup games over the last couple of summers, whether they were in Louisville during Rondo’s annual trip home or the recent games on campus, Beckham picked Rondo’s brain to improve his game.
“I just feel like playing against him can only make me better,” Beckham said. “He’s helped me out a lot. Even when we’re playing pickup, I’ll whisper to him, ‘Did I make the right pass?’ or ‘Should I have taken that shot?’ He’s very influential to me and everything he says to me I’ve got to listen.”
Asked how he fared in the matchups against the NBA all-star, Beckhman admits he still has a lot to learn.
“Rajon is real quick so I try to use my strength and get up in him, but it’s hard to stop somebody that is that good,” Beckham said.
Beckham even had the recent pleasure/task of guarding LeBron James during a surprise visit to Lexington. Although Terrence Jones was on King James the majority of the time – Beckham says Jones did “good” on him – Beckham came face to face with the game’s biggest superstar on more than one occasion.
“It’s tougher in person than it looks on TV,” Beckham said of the experience.
How he fared against James and Co. is hardly the point. For him, his time at UK thus far has been defined by getting better. He’s put on “five to seven pounds” since arriving in January, and he said he’s learned a lot through his experiences with former alumni and current players.
Playing against Brandon Knight last year, Beckham saw firsthand what type of work ethic is required to succeed at this stage in the game.
“What I’m taking from Brandon is his work ethic,” Beckham said. “A lot of things Brandon accomplished are because he worked at it.”
Because he didn’t transfer until the second semester last season, Beckham won’t be eligible until the end of this season’s first semester. Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped him from thinking about his return to Rupp Arena, a sacred ground where he led his high school team to a pair of Sweet 16 State tournament appearances.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Beckham said. “Big Blue Madness is coming up, so I’m preparing myself for that. Being back home close to my family, being around these fans and all my teammates, I can’t wait to get started.”
At last, Beckham is home again.
Previous preseason player profiles:
N.C. State transfer Harrow willing to wait for opportunity to shine at UK
Next in line as UK point guard, Teague far from overwhelmed
Kidd-Gilchrist playing for a lot more than the name on his jersey
With so many focus on his future, Davis all about the present
Vargas taking a page out of Harrellson’s book
Miller gets jumpstart on season with WUG experience
Old-school game part of Wiltjer’s bag of tricks
Poole learns from freshman year, anxious to contribute
Polson hopes to build on dream come true
Malone and Long two walk-ons of one mind
Malone and Long two walk-ons of one mind