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E. J. Floreal is no stranger to stacked rosters.
His father, UK track and field head coach Edrick Floreal, brought in 49 new athletes to his program this year. Comparatively, E. J.’s inclusion in the UK men’s basketball team’s nine-member freshman class does not seem as daunting.
Floreal joins the basketball team as a walk-on, but he is not planning on just watching from the sideline for four years.
“I don’t want to be like the walk-ons that are on the team just to get the experience of being on Kentucky, get the jersey, get to have all the perks,” he said in a one-on-one interview with KyForward in September. “I want to be able to work hard and be able to eventually get a role and contribute on this team, whatever that may be. So I’m willing to work as hard as I need to.”
Floreal comes to Lexington from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, where he transferred for his senior year after his father accepted the job at UK.
He received interest from smaller schools in California before moving to Kentucky, but quickly decided he wanted to attempt to become a Wildcat.
“I’d never thought I’d be at the University of Kentucky. I was always a big Ohio State fan, so I always thought I’d go there,” Foreal said. “When he moved here and I decided to come with him I did everything I could to be able to have this opportunity.”
Floreal was around the team some as a senior in high school, taking the opportunity to participate in open gym time whenever possible.
After his senior season ended, he made his formal request to walk-on at UK. The coaching staff did not immediately accept his request, but after some frank discussion they agreed to let him join the program.
“Pretty much what they said was just, ‘This is going to be the toughest think you’ve ever done,’” Floreal said. “‘You’re going to hate me some days, but I’m not going to care. I’m going to coach you. My goal is going to be to make you better, but I’m obviously going to have to focus on other people first.’
“I was like that’s completely fine. I need this opportunity.”
Floreal is not your typical walk-on.
At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he is taller than two scholarship guards on the roster. Both Edrick and his mother LaVonna Martin-Floreal are former Olympians. His mother won a silver medal in the 1992 Olympic Games. His father competed with Canada in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics and helped coach the U. S. track and field team in the 2012 London Games.
With his size and athleticism, Floreal likely could have earned a scholarship elsewhere.
He decided the opportunity UK presented was too great to pass up.
“I wanted to get better so I could eventually reach my dream, which would be playing at the next level or something like that,” he said. “In order to do that, I feel like I had to be challenged by a bunch of great players, even if that means I’d have to start at the bottom. I had to learn from people.”
And if Floreal earns a championship ring along the way, all the better.
He thinks that would be a nice piece to add to his family’s Olympic collection.
“I’d love to flaunt that in front of them,” he said with a smile. “Yeah, that’d be the goal. We want to win a national championship, and we know how hard we’re going to have to work.”
In the weeks leading up to the 2013 UK men’s basketball media day KyForward is previewing the season with a series of stories about the Cats resulting from interviews with players and head coach John Calipari from September. You can see all the stories in the series here.