Having two older brothers gave Keldon Johnson a competitive advantage, the former Kentucky player said at a day-before-the-NBA Draft media session Wednesday.
The main lesson learned? “Never give up,” Johnson said. “I got beat a lot of times when I was younger. But I never gave up. I stayed consistent and kept working. Wanted to get better and better. I feel like there was always something I was striving toward.”
Johnson spoke to reporters at a hotel next to Grand Central Station in mid-town Manhattan. But his path to the NBA, which he hopes will continue with a first-round pick in Thursday’s draft, was not all glamor, he said. “There was a lot of hard work behind closed doors,” he said.
As he went through the pre-draft process, Johnson said he remembered advice he received from UK Coach John Calipari. “He said enjoy it and have fun with it,” Johnson said. “The process has been fun for me. . . . You only get this moment once. So, I mean, I just try to go and enjoy it.”
Herro vs. Booker?
More than once during the media session, Tyler Herro mentioned another former Kentucky player. When asked what player he would go against in his dream one-on-one matchup, Herro said, Devin Booker. Booker was also the ex-Cat who offered him advice, Herro said.
“Just to take it one day at a time,” Herro said of this advice. “Obviously, being a rookie in the league, it’s a little different. So just continue to work hard and get better every day.”
Herro said his agent told him to expect to be picked in the 11-to-18 range. “I thought I played well at all my workouts,” he said. “I shot pretty well in all of my workouts.”
But Herro suggested he would be the first overall pick in another sport. “I’m the best 2K player in the draft,” he said.
The day-before-the-draft media session can be counted upon to have a reporter ask a player about playing for the New York Knicks. And the player diplomatically saying he would welcome being drafted by any NBA team. According to a transcript posted by the NBA, Murray State guard Ja Morant fell in that category.
Question: What would it be like to be a New York Knick?
Morant: “It would be great to just be with any team, honestly. Just to hear my name called, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
RJ Barrett of Duke got the same question. “It would mean a lot,” he said of being drafted by the Knicks. “My late grandfather, rest in peace, he was the biggest Knicks fan. He’d always tell me I’d play for the Knicks. It would mean a lot to me.”
The first round of the draft could include three players from the state of South Carolina: Zion Williamson, Nic Claxton and Morant.
“We all feel like the state of South Carolina is very slept on,” Morant said. “Having an opportunity for all of us to be first-round picks would be great for South Carolina and us.”
Morant played on an AAU team with Claxton, and also with Williamson. “Well, I can tell you there wasn’t a lot of losing when I played with Zion, and there wasn’t a lot of losing when I played with Nic,” Morant said.
The father of North Carolina guard Coby White died two years ago. His father is gone, but not forgotten.
“I’m thinking about him a lot,” White said. “I wish he was here with me. I would give anything to have him here with me and experience this with me, and be there on draft night. But it’s life. Things happen. Things change. It’s all about how you bounce back from it.”
Tastes like chicken
Zion Williamson saw a mistake in a social media posting about his visit to New Orleans. The Pelicans are expected to take him with the first overall pick.
“We went to this food place,” he said. “I think it was called Commanders. I’ve been seeing some people saying that I got chicken tenders. No, that was my 5-year-old brother that did that. I got fried shrimp and mashed potatoes.”
‘The next one’
Barrett said he felt a responsibility to represent his native Canada.
“I feel like I’m the next one, so I’m watching my step,” he said. “Just trying to do the best I can for my country.”