UK Men's Basketball

Mixed message: Ex-Cats sing praises of Next Cats after beating them

Herro, Johnson compare themselves to incoming freshman class

Former Kentucky men's basketball players Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson talk about how they think the incoming freshman class will perform.
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Former Kentucky men's basketball players Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson talk about how they think the incoming freshman class will perform.

With help from a couple of returning veterans, Kentucky’s “Ex-Cats” played the “Next Cats” in what could be called a best-of-11 series on Wednesday. The Ex-Cats ended the series by being the first to win six games. The Next Cats won two.

That’s how PJ Washington recalled the one-sided competition. He, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, EJ Montgomery and Immanuel Quickley beat a team featuring incoming freshmen Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil Whitney, Johnny Juzang and Keion Brooks.

Johnson said the older players won by “scoring on all cylinders” and “locking them up.”

That said, the Ex-Cats spoke highly of the Next Cats.

“They’re a lot more skilled than I thought they were,” Washington said. “Tyrese, he’s definitely good. Kahlil’s pretty good. Honestly, everybody’s pretty good. Johnny can shoot it. Keion is super bouncy, really wiry and athletic.

“I just feel as long as they play together and bond off the court, they’ll be good on the court.”

Herro cautioned against runaway optimism. The 2019-20 season will not be without adversity, he said.

“I can assure you there’s going to be growing pains just like there was with us,” Herro said. “And, so, I mean, I think they’ll be ready come February. That’s when you’ve really got to start playing your best.”

A reporter told Herro that the talk of growing pains immediately brought to his mind UK’s 118-84 loss to Duke in last season’s opening game.

“Me, too,” Herro said. “It was definitely hard, coming in with all the hype that we had. And then lose by 40. It brought us back to Earth. . . . So I think the loss really helped us throughout the year.”

Revolving door

Interacting with the newest crop of incoming freshmen brought to Herro’s mind the revolving door that is Kentucky basketball: Heralded freshman to one-and-done NBA Draft pick in a matter of months.

“It’s crazy because I remember I was in the same exact (position), doing the same exact they’re doing one year ago,” he said of the newcomers. “So it’s just crazy how everything works out.

“Next year they’ll be doing the same thing that we’re doing. So it’s kind of crazy how everything works.”

Tyler Herro, a first-round draft pick by the Miami Heat this summer, was back in Lexington on Thursday to help out with a John Calipari youth basketball camp. Silas Walker

Fashion statement

Herro made a bold fashion statement by recently posting a picture on Instagram. He was wearing shorty shorts, a Jeff Gordon T-shirt, a head band and glasses.

“Just a shirt I found in Miami,” said Herro, who was drafted by the Heat. “ . . . Just being in my new city. Trying to meet new people. Things like that.”

Johnson, who was Herro’s roommate at UK, said he found the look “pretty nice.” Herro was attempting a look for GQ, Johnson said with a smile.

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i been searchin for love and found lust

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Draft night

At this year’s NBA Draft, Johnson was in the dreaded position of being in the “green room” waiting until late in the first round for his name to be called. He was taken with the 29th pick by the Spurs.

“Of course, you’re nervous because you don’t know where you’re going to go,” Johnson said of the experience. “A lot of people wish they could be in that situation. But can’t. . . . So that day is a blessing. I wasn’t disappointed at all.”


In the pre-draft speculation, much was made of Herro’s wingspan being shorter than his height. Apparently, that is unusual for a highly regarded basketball player.

When asked about the significance of this oddity, Herro said, “Uh, you’ve still got to put the ball through the basket. You’ve still got to play defense whether you have long arms or not. Long arms really don’t have anything to do with it.”

Miami drafted Herro with with the draft’s 13th pick.

“They obviously didn’t care too much because they took me at 13. So I think they’re OK with my arms.”

Travis-Sestina connection

Nate Sestina has formed a bond with Reid Travis. They are newcomers to UK as graduate transfers the past two years: Travis from Stanford and Sestina from Bucknell.

“He texts me a lot as far as how I handled this situation or that situation,” Travis said. “Workouts. How to talk to different players. Which I love. I love that we’ve kind of built that kind of relationship.

“I was the host on his visit. So I kind of feel responsible for kind of passing down tips. . . . When I’m on campus, that’s one guy I kind of gravitate to.”

Travis described his advice to Sestina as, “Just enjoy it, have fun. It goes by quick.”

Kentucky Heat?

Miami drafting Herro further cements a Kentucky-Heat connection. Miami took Bam Adebayo two years ago. And, of course, Rupp Runt Pat Riley is the guiding light of the franchise.

“He’s a great guy,” Herro said of Riley. “He’s a little bit old school in the way he works hard. Much like Coach Cal. . . . The culture between the two is very similar.”

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Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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