Another commitment for next season means yet another talented option on the perimeter for John Calipari, who appears to be building a roster well-suited to the “positionless” brand of basketball that he’s been pitching for the past few years.
Four-star prospect Johnny Juzang — a 6-foot-6 scorer from the Los Angeles area — joined UK’s recruiting class of 2019 on Friday, capping off a whirlwind few weeks that included an in-home visit from Calipari, a Kentucky scholarship offer, an announcement that he was reclassifying from 2020, an official visit to Lexington, and — after all that — the actual pledge to the Wildcats.
“The thing that sticks out about Johnny is his ability to score and shoot,” 247Sports analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He’s got good size for the position. He shoots the ball well on the move. He can make mid-range pull-ups. He’s got good range on his jump shot. He’s a scorer. He can put the ball in the basket, and that’s his best attribute.”
247Sports ranks Juzang as the No. 30 overall player in the 2019 class. Rivals.com pegs him as the No. 34 player in that group. Analysts are in agreement that he should be a college-ready scorer for the Cats after averaging 23.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game for Harvard Westlake (Calif.) this past season.
Juzang, who turned 18 years old in March, is commonly listed as a small forward, but he’s capable of playing a number of roles.
“It’s hard to pigeon-hole him into a specific position on the floor,” Rivals.com analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader. “He’s a 6-foot-6 guard/wing/forward. Fifteen years ago, he would have been a giant ‘2’ guard. Now, he could be a small-ball ‘4.’ But that’s kind of what makes him so valuable in today’s game — his ability to play so many positions on both sides of the floor.
“He’s a good shooter. He has a really, really good mid-range game. He has a good feel for the game as a playmaker and facilitator. He likes to have the ball in his hands, but he doesn’t need the ball in his hands. You also have to love what he could do defensively and how he could guard different spots. And then the intangibles kind of speak for themselves — he’s a great, great kid. He’s someone you want to have on your team. He’s a great locker room guy, for sure.”
Juzang joins a recruiting class — now ranked No. 1 nationally by Rivals.com and 247Sports — that already includes five-star scoring guard Tyrese Maxey in the backcourt, plus highly touted wings Dontaie Allen, Keion Brooks and Kahlil Whitney.
The Cats will also return their two point guards from this past season — Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley — giving the team a deep, talented group on the perimeter. Though Hagans is expected to be the primary ball handler, Maxey and Quickley can also play that role.
“Johnny would be more of a wing player,” Daniels said. “I think he would fit right into what they have in that backcourt pretty nice. And, honestly, he complements the others pretty well with his ability to shoot and score.”
With the Cats’ frontcourt still in flux — graduate transfer Nate Sestina is a lock for next season’s roster, but UK is still waiting on decisions from Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery — Calipari will now have at least seven impact players on the perimeter (as long as Allen can recover from his knee injury in time to play next season). UK has also emerged as the leader for five-star recruit Jaden McDaniels, another versatile prospect who prefers to play away from the basket.
Of all those players, Juzang is at or near the top of the list in terms of three-point shooting.
“As we know from seeing Kentucky in the past — Who’s going to make shots? Who’s going to extend the floor? Who’s going to open up the floor for guys like Hagans and Maxey to drive?” Evans said. “Juzang’s not Kyle Korver, but he’s definitely a capable enough threat that would allow it to be easier on the guards to do what they want to do.”
That glut of talent — and basketball skill — in the backcourt also means UK fans could actually see something that Calipari has long talked about: positionless basketball. Juzang is another interchangeable player on a roster that was already filled with them. If Calipari wants to play a smaller style of basketball — maybe with just one “big” on the court at a time — this appears to be the Kentucky team most equipped to do it.
Will Calipari move away from his more traditional lineups in favor of a positionless brand?
“In the past, he’s said it, but he’s always reverted back to it,” Evans said. “This year, he has to. He has to go that route. If they get a guy like (Virginia Tech transfer) Kerry Blackshear, that changes things. But, if not, there’s only so many guys that are legitimate ‘4’ and ‘5’ guys on their roster, to where he’s gotta play small ball. He’s gotta play that no-position game that so many other guys are relying on and succeeding with.”
Not to be overlooked on Juzang’s resume: his history of winning. The California native played his travel ball with the Compton Magic, a squad that rolled through the Adidas circuit last year and was recognized by the end of the summer as the best grassroots team in the country.
That team also featured several other high-major college prospects — including No. 1-ranked 2020 recruit Evan Mobley — and, yet, Juzang found a way to blend in and make a difference. That should only benefit him when he gets to Lexington, Evans said.
“Already been there done that, right? I’ve always said, if you can recruit a guy that’s won on the highest level of the high school circuit and the travel circuit, that kid is so prepared for college. He’s played alongside so many five-star guys, and he was such an acclaimed guy out West for so long that the target has always been on his back. And he’s never handled it the wrong way. So he can already handle adversity, and I think that’s definitely going to help him transition to college.”
“Johnny can really score the basketball,” the UK coach said Friday night in a statement officially announcing Juzang’s addition. “You’re talking about a kid who has a college-ready body, which is why I was in full support of him reclassifying. When he told us he was doing it, I said let’s do this. He can really shoot the basketball and has a great skill set, but what I love about him is his will to win, his fight and competitiveness. He likes to play physical and can shoot over the top of defenders, plus he’s a very good rebounder for his age. He’s a smart player who is really going to make us a different team next year.”
Top 10 recruiting classes for 2019
- 1. Kentucky
- 2. Arizona
- 3. Duke
- 4. Villanova
- 5. Memphis
- 6. Southern Cal
- 7. Florida
- 8. North Carolina
- 9. Georgia
- 10. Louisville
Note: 247Sports composite rankings