NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — John Calipari, facing more uncertainty than ever about how many of his current Kentucky basketball players will leave for the NBA after this season, has been slow to pull the trigger on scholarship offers to Class of 2018 recruits. That means there are a bunch of 5-star prospects, guys who’d be a crown jewel for most other programs, just waiting on the Wildcats.
Keldon Johnson, ranked as high as the No. 11 overall player and No. 2 shooting in the country by 247Sports, is one of them. But Johnson told SEC Country at Peach Jam that Calipari and Co. are starting to get involved.
“Kentucky’s been pick up their interest a lot. They’ve been coming to a lot of my games. I’ve been talking to their assistant [Joel Justus],” Johnson said, noting what the Cats have told him about how to impress them: “Just keep competing, keep playing hard and just play my game — don’t get out of character. I think if I play my game, they’ll recognize what I can do.”
The versatile, 6-foot-5 wing who recently transferred from Huntington (W.Va.) Prep to Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) was an All-EYBL and All-Peach Jam selection this summer after leading his team to the Final Four on Nike’s AAU circuit. He averaged 19.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals in 23 games against some of the best players in America.
Accordingly, his recruitment has blown up. Kansas is in the mix and Johnson said UCLA, Oregon, Texas, Maryland, Georgetown, Virginia, Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Memphis are among the schools pursuing him the hardest. So what happens if Kentucky comes through with an offer?
“They’ll end up on the list,” said Johnson, who “definitely” wants to get that call from Calipari and isn’t holding the slow-play against him. “Because they’ve been talking to me a lot, so I’ll just be patient with it and see where it goes. If it ends up happening, I’d be blessed to have an offer from Kentucky. But if it doesn’t, maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.”
So far, the Wildcats have offered only eight uncommitted players in the Class of 2018: forwards Marvin Bagley, Zion Williamson, Bol Bol and Cameron Reddish and guards Romeo Langford, Darius Garland, Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes — the No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 11 and 22 overall players in the country, per the 247Sports composite.
Guys like Johnson (No. 17 in the composite), forward Jordan Brown (No. 6), center Moses Brown (No. 7), forwards Simi Shittu (No. 9), Naz Reid (No. 10), Louis King (No. 13) and Emmitt Williams (No. 16) have expressed interest in a UK offer but are still waiting. King has all but said he’d commit to the Cats if offered.
And what does Johnson think of Calipari and Kentucky?
“Legendary program, great coaching staff, a coaching staff that gets you ready for the league,” he said, adding that he played AAU ball with former Wildcats star and recent lottery pick Bam Adebayo.
Clearly in no rush, Johnson doesn’t have a timetable for trimming his list of schools or setting up official visits.
“Definitely wide open, taking our time,” he said. Up next: “Sitting down with my dad and talking about it, seeing where he thinks I would fit in and then I tell him where I like best and where I think I fit in best.”