UK Men's Basketball

Meet the Cats: Walk-on Jonny David hopes shooting will give him a shot

Jonny David, who played high school ball for Mount Lebanan, Pa., has committed to Kentucky as a walk-on.
Jonny David, who played high school ball for Mount Lebanan, Pa., has committed to Kentucky as a walk-on. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As a third-generation college basketball player, Kentucky freshman Jonny David brings an unusually robust résumé to walk-on status. Both his father, Joe, and his grandfather, Samuel, played for Pittsburgh. Joe led the Panthers in assists as a senior in 1985-86, while Samuel was the leading scorer (15.6 ppg) as a senior in 1948-49.

David, a 1,000-point scorer playing for his father at Mount Lebanon High School in the Pittsburgh area, is the latest in a long, long line of players who've faced a basketball crossroads: Choose to sit on the UK bench or actually play for a lesser program.

"I know what I signed up for," David said. "It's one of those things I'm looking forward to: becoming a better player (competing against) these guys (in practice). Hopefully, they become better as well."

Joe David said his son is not content with sitting and watching.

"He's not the typical walk-on player there ... ," Joe said. "His goal is to find some (playing) time. But he understands how difficult that is.

"I think he's going to be a good, nice surprise for them if they need somebody to get in there and knock a shot down."

That he reached the 1,000-point mark for his career on a three-pointer was "very appropriate," David said. And he figures to be a good shooter given his pedigree.

"He was a shooter," David said of his father. "If I'm working out in the driveway, he'll come out and he'll make, like, 20-some in a row. So he's still got it."

Both father and son deferred to the other as the better shot. When asked who would win a game of H-O-R-S-E, David said, "I think I'd beat him. I would do other things besides straight shots." But Joe said, "If I got him, it's because I'd throw up a lefty bank shot, a quirky shot."

Of course, the David family's connection to UK Coach John Calipari is well-chronicled. Joe was entering his senior season when Calipari joined the Pitt staff as an assistant coach.

Midway through the season, Coach Roy Chipman resigned.

"I distinctly remember asking (Calipari), 'Why don't you become the coach? You'd be a great head coach,'" Joe said. "And he said, 'I'm not ready. It's not the right time.'"

Joe recalled Calipari stressing individual instruction and improvement, a revolutionary concept at the time.

"He was one of the few guys in college who really tried to make me a better player," Joe said.

After Joe's career ended, he and Calipari drifted apart. A connection with former UK assistant Orlando Antigua set the groundwork for Johnny David becoming a walk-on. Antigua's first coaching job was as an assistant for Joe at Mount Lebanon High. As Antigua became a Calipari assistant at Memphis and then Kentucky, he invited Joe to visit. Joe accepted the chance to see UK basketball up close.

Jonny David became a rabid UK fan. Though he had recruiting interest from schools like Princeton, Bucknell, Columbia and Cornell, he saw better long-range opportunities at UK.

Whatever David contributes on the court, he figures to boost the team grade-point average. He reluctantly acknowledged that, given the additional weight of college prep courses, his high school GPA exceeded 4.0.

As for the spelling of his first name, David said his given name of Jonathan was "too long." So he shortened it.

"When I was younger, I didn't like the way the 'H' looked, I guess. So I decided to take it out."