Keldon Johnson: ‘I’m not afraid to take the big shot’
Ten games into their first season of college basketball, the Kentucky Wildcats’ five freshmen have already experienced some ups and downs as they get adjusted to a new level of play.
Four of UK’s five freshmen — EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley — were considered top-25 national recruits in the 2018 class, and the other — Tyler Herro — was No. 37 nationally in the composite rankings coming out of high school.
How have the newest Cats compared to their class of 2018 counterparts so far? Here’s a closer look at the top-25 players in the 247Sports composite rankings and their statistics through the early part of the season:
Indiana star Romeo Langford — billed as the home-state savior of Hoosiers basketball — has unsurprisingly been the leader in playing time among top-25 freshmen, clocking 33.0 minutes per game so far this season. He’s followed in that category by Kansas guard Devon Dotson (32.2), UK’s Keldon Johnson (32.0), Duke’s RJ Barrett (31.0) and Florida’s Andrew Nembhard (30.8).
Barrett, the No. 1-ranked recruit in the 2018 class and Naismith national player of the year last season, is the leading scorer among incoming five-star freshmen with 24.2 points per game. He’s followed by Oregon’s Bol Bol (21.0), Duke teammate Zion Williamson (20.4), Langford (17.7) and Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland, who was averaging 16.2 points per game before suffering a season-ending injury just five games into his freshman campaign. Johnson is next on that list with 16.1 points per game.
Bol and Western Kentucky freshman Charles Bassey lead the five-star freshmen in rebounding with 9.6 boards per game each. Williamson is next with 9.0 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game.
Nembhard — the Gators’ starting point guard from Canada and No. 23 recruit in the 2018 class — is averaging 6.1 assists per game, tops among five-star freshmen. Duke’s Tre Jones (5.6) and Barrett (4.2) are next on that list.
Looking for time
Only five of the college freshmen who were among the top-25 recruits in the 2018 class are playing fewer than 20 minutes per game this season: UNC’s Nassir Little (19.8), UK’s Montgomery (18.2), UK’s Hagans (19.9), Nevada’s Jordan Brown (11.3) and Oregon’s Louis King (17.3).
Brown is seventh on his top-10 team in playing time and scoring, with five seniors and one junior ahead of him in both categories. King missed Oregon’s first seven games due to injury. Little — the No. 3 recruit in the country — has played between 16 and 24 minutes off the bench in every game this season. Hagans has more minutes played in each of UK’s past three games than any of the seven previous games. Montgomery, meanwhile, has played fewer minutes in UK’s last three games than any of his first seven.
Two other players from the top-25 recruits’ list in 2018 skipped college altogether: former Louisville commitment Anfernee Simons (a prep school player) jumped straight to the NBA and has played in five games with the Portland Trail Blazers this season, while former Syracuse commitment Darius Bazley is sitting out the season as he trains ahead of the 2019 NBA Draft.
Highly touted freshmen such as Barrett, Williamson and Langford have been dominating the headlines so far this season, but plenty of other less-celebrated newcomers have also been making names for themselves at schools big and small.
Detroit Mercy guard Antoine Davis is actually the highest-scoring freshman in the country — and No. 2 nationally regardless of class — with 26.6 points per game. He also leads all players nationally with 57 made three-pointers (shooting 42.9 percent from long range). Davis — the son of Detroit Mercy head coach Mike Davis, the former coach at Indiana — was home-schooled in Texas and considered the No. 312 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2018 class.
Cal State Northridge forward Lamine Diane — a native of Senegal — is second nationally among freshmen with 24.8 points per game and leads all freshmen in rebounding with 10.5 boards per game. A redshirt freshman, Diane was the No. 166 overall player in the 2017 class out of Findlay Prep, where he was teammates with UK forward PJ Washington and coached by PJ’s father, Paul Washington.
Arizona State’s Luguentz Dort — the No. 30 overall player in the 2018 rankings — is right behind Barrett and Bol with 20.9 points per game. Williamson is next on the scoring list, and East Carolina’s Jayden Gardner (19.0 points per game) is the only other freshman in the top 100 nationally in that category. Gardner was the No. 387 player in the 247Sports rankings for 2018.
UCLA freshman Moses Brown — a McDonald’s All-American, onetime UK target and the No. 27 recruit in the 2018 rankings — is No. 2 behind Diane with 9.7 rebounds per game, and he leads all true freshmen nationally in that category.
In the rankings
Fourteen of the top-25 players in the 2018 recruiting rankings play for teams who were included in the most recent Associated Press Top 25 poll: Dotson and Quentin Grimes for No. 1 Kansas; Barrett, Tre Jones, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson for No. 2 Duke; Jordan Brown for No. 7 Nevada; Little and Coby White for No. 12 North Carolina; Hagans, Johnson, Montgomery and Quickley for No. 19 Kentucky; and Langford for No. 25 Indiana.
The following play for teams who were not included in ESPN’s most recent Bracketology update: Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky), Simi Shittu and Darius Garland (Vanderbilt), Naz Reid (Louisiana State) and Jaylen Hoard (Wake Forest).
CBS Sports’ latest “Frosh Watch” list — updated Tuesday — pegs Williamson as the national freshman of the year, just ahead of Duke teammate Barrett. Six of the 10 players on that list were top-25 recruits coming out of high school, including Kentucky’s Johnson at No. 10. The others are Arizona State’s Dort at No. 3, Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis — the No. 40 recruit in 2018 — at No. 4, Detroit’s Davis at No. 7, and Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker — the No. 57 recruit in 2018 — at No. 8.
The early Player of the Year breakdown at KenPom.com has Barrett and Williamson in the discussion, at No. 3 and No. 4 respectively, with Bol as the only other freshman on the list at No. 9. Oklahoma’s Trae Young (2018) and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger (2011) are the only freshmen to ever earn that award, which is determined by a combination of advanced analytics. Wisconsin senior Ethan Happ and Kansas junior Dedric Lawson are the top two players on that list this season.
The next level
The top-seven players in the latest NBA mock draft from ESPN.com are all freshmen and were all ranked among the top-25 recruits in the 2018 class. In order, they are: Williamson, Barrett, Little, Reddish, Bol, Langford and Johnson.
ESPN’s newest Top 100 list for the 2019 draft — updated Tuesday — has 12 of the top 25 recruits from the 2018 class in first-round territory and six more listed in second-round territory. The seven others are Bassey (No. 61), Montgomery, Hagans, Quickley, Nembhard, Jordan Brown (all unranked) and Simons (already in the NBA).
UK’s Herro is No. 38 on ESPN’s list of best NBA Draft prospects for 2019.
Top 25 recruits so far this season
Note: 247Sports composite rankings are used; All stats through Saturday’s games
No. 19 Kentucky vs. No. 12 North Carolina
5:15 p.m. in CBS Sports Classic in Chicago (CBS-27)