UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky’s Johnson to enter NBA Draft but leaves door open to return. Here’s what he said.

Keldon Johnson: ‘We just played to our training’ in UK win vs. Houston

Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson talks about how UK pulled out a 62-58 win over Houston in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Friday, March 29, 2019. The Wildcats play Auburn on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.
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Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson talks about how UK pulled out a 62-58 win over Houston in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Friday, March 29, 2019. The Wildcats play Auburn on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.

Keldon Johnson announced Wednesday that he will enter his name in this year’s NBA Draft but keep open the option of returning to Kentucky for a sophomore season.

Johnson joined PJ Washington as UK players who have entered their names in the 2019 NBA Draft. Both are widely projected to be first-round picks. Earlier this week, Ashton Hagans announced that he will play for Kentucky again next season.

Under new NCAA rules, Johnson can sign with a certified agent, receive feedback and still have the ability to return to school if he chooses. He has until May 29 to make a final decision.

In its mock draft, The Sporting News projected Johnson to be taken by the Miami Heat with the 15th pick in the June 20 draft.

“Johnson likely isn’t a superstar find here in the middle of the first round,” The Sporting News posted on its website. “But his competitiveness, positional size and shooting potential offers a nice combination of skills for Miami. In this draft, that’s more than enough.”

Johnson said in a statement released by UK that his hope is to be a lottery pick.

“If I am, I plan on pursuing my dreams and staying in the draft,” he said. “But I want to go through the process first and get correct information.”

Johnson, who turns 20 on Oct. 11, averaged 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds as a freshman. Southeastern Conference coaches voted him to their All-Freshman team. The coaches and The Associated Press voted him to their All-SEC second teams.

“Keldon is a gym rat who has improved in all areas this season,” UK head coach John Calipari said in the news release. “Keldon has the athleticism, physique and skill set to compete at a high level in that league. His ability to make people around him better and his willingness to share and be a great teammate is what will set him apart when he goes through workouts. I fully support his decision to go through this process and get all the information. Whatever he decides, he will have my full support.”

Johnson, a 6-foot-6 wing, came to UK from Oak Hill Academy. He was named the Virginia Gatorade High School Player of the Year. He averaged 22.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists as a high school senior.

Johnson made an immediate impression during UK’s August exhibition games in the Bahamas. He averaged 13.3 points while making 44.4 percent of his three-point shots in the four exhibition games.

UK Coach John Calipari welcomed Johnson’s enthusiastic play and unabashed self-confidence.

“If there’s five better players than him in the country, you’ve got to tell me who they are,” Calipari said after the final exhibition game. “I don’t care what you read anywhere, I’ve done this a long time, and I know who’s who. And if there are five better than him, tell me who they are.”

Johnson ended his freshman season with a double-double in UK’s loss to Auburn in the Midwest Region finals. He scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Coincidentally, Auburn was the opponent for a game that arguably best showcased Johnson’s irrepressible spirit. He scored 20 points to help lead Kentucky to an 82-80 victory at Auburn on Jan. 19. This came four days after he went scoreless at Georgia.

“Think about pressing,” Calipari said. “How about that for (not) pressing?”

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