MOUNTAIN BROOK, Ala. — When Rick Pitino cited weather as a reason he could not come to a Southeastern Conference media day one year, then Florida coach Billy Donovan joked that the Kentucky coach had been doing a rain dance on the airport tarmac.
Fast forward to Wednesday’s media day, when attending was cited as a reason former Virginia Tech men’s basketball player and highly coveted graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear chose Florida rather than Kentucky.
“I told him throughout the [transfer] process, ‘If you come to Florida, I’ll bring you to Media Day,’ ” Florida coach Mike White said.
This was part of White’s way of telling Blackshear, an All-ACC player for the Hokies, he would be a team leader for the Gators.
“ ‘You won’t be coming in as the guy who has to work his way into the trust of the staff,’ ” White said. “ ‘You’ll be the lone senior. Speak up! We’ll be relying on you. You’ll be an extension of our staff.’ ”
Blackshear found this appealing.
“That was cool,” he said. “Just understanding I had a big role on the team was really fun for me. It made me understand I had to be one of the leaders this year.”
Blackshear’s accomplishments in his old conference last season seemed to be no secret to his new circuit.
The SEC media, which lost 12 of its top 13 scorers from last season, named Blackshear its preseason player of the year. Besides Kentucky, the 6-foot-10 forward who averaged 11.2 points and 6 rebounds during the Hokies’ run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last season also drew interest from Tennessee and Arkansas.
The new guy in the league had nice words for his rivals in comparison to where he was.
“I think the two conferences mirror each other a lot in terms of talent,” said Blackshear, who chose to transfer after coach Buzz Williams left Blacksburg for Texas A&M. “It’s going to be potentially one, two, maybe even three top-10 teams at one time in the AP poll. I think they compare in a lot of ways.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari has made no secret that he sought to add another “big” as a safeguard against foul trouble or injury. When asked if he seriously considered Kentucky as a transfer destination, Blackshear said, “Heavily. Heavily.”
Perhaps putting the best face on the situation, Wildcats sophomore guard Ashton Hagans said he was happy that Blackshear went elsewhere.
“I’m glad we didn’t [get him],” Hagans said. “It lets EJ [Montgomery], Nick [Richards] and Nate [Sestina] show what they’ve got. Give them more minutes to play.”
Hagans later conceded that Blackshear, whom the media voted as preseason SEC Player of the Year, would have been a nice addition to Kentucky’s team.
“It would have been,” he said. “But now, we’re moving on from that.”
Blackshear, who is from Orlando, spoke of how intently the Florida players reached out to him.
“They were persistent,” he said. “Really persistent. They kept engaging me.”
Blackshear scored 1,152 points and grabbed 616 rebounds for Virginia Tech.
“What will he bring?” White said. “A bunch.”
The Florida coach also cited how Blackshear can contribute an intangible benefit.
“Our guys know he’s good,” White said. “And he’s a high-level communicator. He’s a positive-reinforcement guy with his teammates. He goes a really good job with our younger team. They were excited about the day he committed.”
More Hokie honors
Another former Virginia Tech men’s basketball player also got a nod in preseason voting — this time in the Big 12.
Chris Clarke, who never played for the Hokies in the 2018-19 season due to being indefinitely suspended from the team in October, was named the Big 12’s preseason newcomer of the year by the conference’s coaches.
Clarke, also a graduate transfer, will play for Texas Tech, which lost the NCAA Tournament final in overtime to Virginia last March.
The Associated Press contributed to this story