Big Ben, jet lag and a team coming together. Catching up with the Cats in London.

UK Athletics

A couple of days into their basketball trip to London, the Kentucky Wildcats seem to be acclimating themselves to their new surroundings.

The good: Big Ben.

The bad: That flight over here, and trying to get on schedule once they arrived.

Obviously, there’s a singular goal shared by these Cats for their time in England: beat Michigan, their opponent on Sunday afternoon in O2 Arena.

“At the end of the day, it’s a business trip,” senior guard CJ Fredrick said on the eve of the team’s departure from Lexington.

But travel of this sort does bring an opportunity for a little extra, and UK Coach John Calipari stated ahead of time that he hoped his players took advantage of the trip and made some room to soak in the British atmosphere.

Even with three full days in the city between their Thursday morning arrival and Monday morning departure, the players’ schedule was regimented. A walkthrough and two practices at a local gym. Team activities such as meals and meetings in Calipari’s hotel room. Strict lights-out times and breakfast hours.

But there’s also a little opening for some fun.

The players’ best chance to see the city was Saturday morning, when they were given a four-hour period to do whatever they wanted to in London.

Fredrick had said earlier this season that his family comes to every game — home and away — and this trip was no exception. The Cincinnati native said his mother, father and sister made the trip, and he was able to join them for a bus tour of the city Saturday that hit many of the famous local landmarks.

“So that was just nice to get like an hour summary of London, and see things quick, and spend some time with my family,” he said. “I like Harry Potter, so there were a bunch of Harry Potter scenes that I saw, so that was pretty cool. Big Ben was cool. The London Bridge was cool. And then there were some cool little facts that I learned that were pretty neat.”

Senior guard Sahvir Wheeler also singled out Big Ben — the iconic clock tower that sits alongside the Palace of Westminster, right on the River Thames — adding that he did a little shopping in some of the more posh areas of the city.

“I was able to visit some of the stores — the luxury/premium type of stores — I think that’s been my favorite thing so far,” he said.

Wheeler confirmed that he made some purchases, but declined to disclose the specifics.

“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “Why come here and not get something?”

Wheeler has also been sticking to a mostly American diet during his time overseas, noting that he’d already found his way into a Five Guys and Baskin-Robbins during his first 48 hours in England.

Freshman forward Chris Livingston said he took a separate trip to Big Ben — walking there with teammates Brennan Canada and Walker Horn — and was enjoying the London atmosphere.

“Being able to tour the city, look at the different places in London, get to meet the people — it’s been dope being here, so I’ve been having a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m just going to keep walking around and seeing what they got.”

The only downside expressed by any of the players regarding the travel from Lexington to London was the trip itself. Seven hours on a flight that took off a little later than expected, sitting in coach seats, with hour-plus bus rides on either end and a five-hour time change waiting for them in England.

At first, Fredrick expressed no negatives about the experience. Then, he reconsidered that position.

“Ahhh, I would say getting adjusted to the time zone,” he said. “That’s tough. That’s been the toughest.”

“It was just the plane ride,” Wheeler added. “Everything else has been enjoyable.”

Livingston, with legs that are a few years younger than those of his two teammates, also wasn’t a fan of the time change — “It’s kind of wacky. It’s kind of weird,” he said — but added that he actually felt great at Thursday’s walkthrough and said the Cats should be in fine shape for Sunday’s game.

The only team-wide sightseeing activity on the docket was a tour of Stamford Bridge, home of soccer superpower Chelsea FC, on Friday morning. The Kentucky players — even the non-soccer-savvy among them — seemed to be genuinely in awe of that experience.

“You could feel the energy,” Wheeler said. “There was an aura around the stadium. You felt like you were in the midst of greatness. The people there were high class. They gave us a great tour — very detailed. I’m not a super big football-slash-soccer fan, but I’ve definitely grown more respect, and obviously I know more about it now.”

He also found it an opportunity to get to know more about his teammates.

And that, according to Calipari’s comments earlier in the week, was one goal of this trip.

Wheeler said freshman center Ugonna Onyenso — a native of Nigeria and a soccer player himself until he switched to basketball — was appreciative of the opportunity to tour the home of one of the sport’s greatest clubs.

Onyenso said on the tour that it was his first time being in a soccer stadium of that size.

“I’m very happy. It’s very nice being here. It’s very amazing,” he said.

Wheeler marveled at how much his young teammate knew of the sport. The team’s starting point guard also saw a good team-building opportunity in the early stages of a basketball season that still has three or four months to go.

“You get to learn more about each other,” Wheeler said. “Yesterday, I got to see how passionate Ugo was about it. He knew everybody. He knew the names. He could tell you their backstory. So just growing together as a team — you get to learn more about each other — and just being around each other, you know, it always builds team camaraderie. It builds team morale.

“Going into a high-profile game like this, you’re more comfortable with each other. You’re having fun, you’ve relaxed, and now you’re ready to play.”

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