Keldon Johnson announced Wednesday morning that he will be the third Kentucky player this year to close the option of returning for another season and remain in the NBA Draft.
His announcement came a day after roommate and fellow freshman Tyler Herro said he would forego the rest of his college career and stay in the June 20 NBA Draft. Earlier this month, sophomore PJ Washington made the same decision.
In making his announcement, Johnson thanked UK fans, coaches, teammates, family and friends for their support.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said of his 2018-19 UK season. “I had a wonderful experience. You guys made for the best year I could ever have.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-6 guard from South Hill, Va., averaged 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He made 46.1 percent of his shots (38.1 percent from three-point range).
Southeastern Conference coaches voted Johnson as the league’s Freshman of the Year. He also made the coaches’ All-SEC Second Team.
A news release from Kentucky noted how Johnson seemed to be at his best in big games. In UK’s games against ranked opponents, he averaged 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds while making 48.9 percent of his shots. That included scoring 19 points in a victory over then-No. 1 Tennessee and a career-high 17 rebounds in a home victory over Auburn. The 17 rebounds were the most by a UK player in a Southeastern Conference game in John Calipari’s 10 seasons as coach.
“Keldon has a game that will translate well to the next level,” Calipari said in a news release. “Of all the players in this draft, he could have one of the best transitions physically and athletically. He has all the tools you look for in a player in that league, and what makes him special is his joy for the game and his passion to get better. He improved in all phases of his game this year and will continue to grow in the NBA. I’ll miss seeing that smile he brought to the gym every day, but I’m happy for Keldon as he pursues his dream.”
Mike Schmitz, an NBA Draft analyst for ESPN, projected Johnson as a first-round pick.
“He’s maybe seen as more of a guy who plays off energy and plays off toughness as opposed to so much skill,” Schmitz said. “But I think he’s definitely a first round-caliber prospect. . . .
“The question mark with him is his shooting, and kind of his offensive upside.”
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas also saw Johnson as a first-round pick who could possibly move into the lottery (top 14 picks).
“Competitive and athletic and all that stuff, that’s going to work well for him,” Bilas said. “He’s got a chance to improve all those things.”
Schmitz suggested Johnson could improve his NBA profile during the pre-draft process.
“He’s a very likeable kid who has a great spirit about him,” the draft analyst said. “And I think that’s going to work in the pre-draft process. He got better every single year of high school and over-performed relative to expectations. So I think that bodes well.
“If he shows he’s a little better shooter than maybe he showed at Kentucky that could certainly help him.”
Bilas pointed out that all college players are in the process of developing their games.
“These guys are not finished products,” Bilas said. “They’re taken as projects in the league. And there are very few of these guys that are going to be immediate-impact players. If they are immediate-impact players, they are going to go in the top five.”
2019-20 UK roster
After the announced departures of PJ Washington, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Jemarl Baker and the expired eligibility of Reid Travis and Jonny David, here is how Kentucky’s roster for next season looks currently, with the possibility of additional recruits or graduate transfers still to come:
Dontaie Allen, 6-6 freshman forward
Keion Brooks, 6-7 freshman forward
Brad Calipari, 6-0 redshirt junior guard
Ashton Hagans, 6-3 sophomore guard
Tyrese Maxey, 6-3 freshman guard
EJ Montgomery, 6-10 sophomore forward
Zan Payne, 6-4 redshirt freshman guard/forward
Immanuel Quickley, 6-3 sophomore guard
Nick Richards, 6-11 junior forward
Nate Sestina, 6-9 graduate transfer forward/center
Kahlil Whitney, 6-7 freshman forward