NextCats: Dakari Johnson 'ready for expectations'

broberts@herald-leader.comMarch 4, 2013 

Dakari Johnson

Hours after wrapping up his official visit to Kentucky last week, Dakari Johnson tweeted a photograph that had UK basketball fans all aflutter.

The photo showed the 2012 national championship banner that hangs above the new locker room in Rupp Arena.

Johnson, the No. 1 center in the class of 2013, added a message: "Trying to hang one next year."

His more than 15,000 Twitter followers — mostly UK fans — couldn't retweet it fast enough.

The 7-foot Brooklyn native joined Kentucky's No. 1-ranked recruiting class in January, and he had already lived in Lexington for three years while attending middle school at Sayre.

So he was already well acquainted with the hoopla that surrounds UK basketball.

Still, he was taken aback by the weekend, which included a big win over Missouri and the presence of ESPN's College GameDay.

"I thought the crowd at Rupp was unbelievable," Johnson told the Herald-Leader over the weekend. "It by far was the most impressive atmosphere that I have been to for any game ever. The fans were loud and there was so much intensity."

Johnson's mother and brother accompanied him on the visit.

The family met with UK President Eli Capilouto, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, academic advisers, team officials and parents of some of the current players.

Though Johnson is projected as a possible one-and-done player and will almost surely be leaving Lexington before exhausting his eligibility, his mother wanted to use the visit to get acquainted with the academic side of UK basketball.

Makini Campbell has been an educator for nearly 20 years and is currently a middle school guidance counselor at Montverde Academy in Florida, where Johnson transferred after his freshman season.

Campbell called the CATS tutoring program one of UK's biggest recruiting tools and liked hearing about John Calipari's initiative to bring back former UK players and help them graduate.

"Dakari knows that in college you are working toward a degree," she said. "He will definitely finish all coursework leading to a degree should he go pro. It's not even a question."

Johnson was in Lexington to get a glimpse of his future, but he also had a chance to revisit his past.

The day before the UK-Missouri game, Johnson returned to Sayre School to see his former teachers and classmates.

"My visit to my old school Sayre was great," he said. "Just seeing everyone that I spent three years with again was a real treat. It was really overwhelming seeing how everyone has grown up and changed."

When he committed to UK over Syracuse and Georgetown, Johnson told the Herald-Leader that he considered Lexington a "second home" because of his previous time spent here.

Campbell feels the same way and said they still have close friends and extended family in the area.

"I've been back at least once a year in the past three years," she said. "I wasn't able to see everybody (on this trip) but they understood the purpose of our visit.

"We will see lots more of each other."

UK fans will be expecting a lot from her son.

Johnson said he talked with the current players quite a bit during the visit, but he didn't share any insight on who might or might not be returning for 2013-14.

The only players he knows for sure will join him next season are UK signees Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis.

"I have been talking to most of my future teammates," Johnson said. "Just talking to them about what the goal is for next season and expectations are going to be high, but I think we all are competitors and we all want to win a national championship."

Johnson plans to arrive in Lexington for good in June. And once the season begins and the team is spending more time in Rupp, he'll have all that locker room décor to keep him motivated.

"I like that they have the Final Four floor piece there and the banner in the locker room," he said. "I think it really gets it into your mind that the goal is to win the national championship.

"I am ready for those expectations."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216.Twitter: @Next CatsBlog:

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