Justus: Kentucky a place where you get better and play around great players
The announcements earlier this month that freshman guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley will return to UK for their sophomore years was welcome news for a Kentucky basketball program accustomed to off-season turnover.
Add the arrival of five-star recruit Tyrese Maxey, and the Cats should have another talented backcourt for next season. John Calipari is still looking for one more addition, however.
The loss of shooting guards Tyler Herro and Jemarl Baker, plus small forward Keldon Johnson, from this past season’s team might lead to a need for one more scorer for the 2019-20 campaign.
Five-star shooting guard Johnny Juzang recently emerged as a candidate to fill that spot.
Calipari and assistant coach Joel Justus, who has been recruiting Juzang from afar for about a year, were in California late last week to meet with the high school star and his family. A UK scholarship offer was extended on that visit, and — even though Juzang is currently in the 2020 class — there have been rumblings in recruiting circles that he could be looking to jump to 2019 and get started with his college basketball career.
“There’s talk of that,” 247Sports national analyst Jerry Meyer said, referencing the reclassification rumors while noting that there’s “nothing concrete” yet on such a move. Shortly after Calipari’s visit with Juzang last week, Meyer logged a Crystal Ball prediction in favor of UK.
“I just think he likes Kentucky. I think he’s been wanting this offer,” he told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday. “And I think Kentucky has a really good chance to land him.”
A few hours after Meyer said those words, Juzang tweeted that he would make a “big announcement” at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.
National recruiting expert Andrew Slater also logged a Crystal Ball prediction in favor of Kentucky on Tuesday afternoon, and 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels reported Tuesday that Juzang is now scheduled to take an official visit to Lexington next week. The Wildcats are certainly emerging as the team to beat in his recruitment.
Juzang and his inner circle haven’t been saying much about the reclassification possibility, but the Herald-Leader was told later Tuesday afternoon that Juzang could be moving quickly toward a commitment — with that pledge possibly even coming Wednesday night — and a switch to the 2019 class was the most likely outcome to his recruitment. Kansas, UCLA, Virginia, Southern Cal and Villanova, which had an assistant coach visit Juzang this week, are among the other schools that have been pursuing him.
Juzang, who turned 18 years old last month, is the No. 21 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings for 2020.
Meyer likened his size and offensive style to that of former UK player James Young, a “straight-ahead driver” with enough length to shoot over defenders from the perimeter. Juzang’s outside shot is among his best attributes.
“He can really shoot,” Meyer said. “He shoots well off the catch from three and has a nice pull-up jumper. And he rebounds — averages almost double-digit rebounds. He has size and he’s physical — a smart player.”
Juzang — a 6-foot-6 native of Los Angeles — averaged 23.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game as a junior, missing the first part of this past season due to injury. His rebounding ability, in particular, has caught Meyer’s attention.
“He’s smart. He has instincts. He competes. And he has some size and strength. He’s good in traffic and comes up with the ball,” he said. “I’m always very interested in rebounding, because, one, it gets you possession of the basketball, which you must have to score. And it keeps it out of the other team’s hands. It indicates physicality and toughness and competitiveness.”
Juzang has plenty of that. Last summer, his Compton Magic squad was arguably the best in all of grassroots basketball, regardless of shoe company affiliation. The Magic romped to a championship on the Adidas circuit and then knocked off the Nike champion at the end of the summer.
That roster also featured five-star prospects Isaiah and Evan Mobley — the latter is the No. 1-ranked player in the 2020 class — and a few other high-major recruits. Juzang learned to play alongside other stars, and he learned to make a difference with the ball out of his hands.
Those attributes would come in handy at UK, which always has several five-star players on the court. In addition to Hagans, Maxey and Quickley, the Cats will have talented wing players Keion Brooks, Kahlil Whitney and Dontaie Allen — all longer prospects who prefer to play on the perimeter — next season.
With the Wildcats’ frontcourt situation for next season still in flux, Juzang could help give Kentucky a little different look than in recent seasons.
“He’d fit fine … and Kentucky could go small with guys like Kahlil Whitney at the ‘4,’” Meyer said. “From my understanding, it looks like Kentucky is going to have a lot of perimeter players. It might be a little different look than usual. … You play what you got, and you try to get your best players out there to give you the best shot to win. And it just looks like next year’s roster might be shaping up as more of a guard-oriented roster.”