On the same day that he signed a new 10-year, $86 million contract as UK’s head basketball coach, John Calipari was sitting courtside at the University of Virginia’s arena watching some of the nation’s top recruits play at the NBPA Top 100 Camp.
One of the star players in the very first game Calipari attended Thursday was Jalen Johnson, a top-10 prospect in the 2020 class and one of Kentucky’s original top targets in that group.
Johnson — a 6-foot-8 forward from Milwaukee — recently cut his list to Kentucky, Arizona, Duke and Wisconsin, and he appears to be reaching the final stages of his recruitment.
“I just felt most comfortable with those four schools moving forward,” he said. “It was kind of getting to be a long process. So I’m just kind of breaking it down with these four schools.”
Earlier in the spring, Johnson said he hoped to make a college decision sometime around the Nike Peach Jam event in mid-July, but he didn’t commit to that timetable Thursday.
“I’m really trying to just embrace it and enjoy it and make sure I make the right decision at the end,” Johnson said.
A delayed decision — if it does happen — might end up being good news for Kentucky.
Duke is seen by recruiting experts as the overwhelming favorite in Johnson’s recruitment, with 247Sports Crystal Ball and Rivals.com FutureCast predictions coming in favor of the Blue Devils from such national analysts as Eric Bossi, Evan Daniels, Corey Evans, Jerry Meyer and Andrew Slater, as well as some recruiting experts from Johnson’s home state of Wisconsin.
Johnson maintains he doesn’t have a favorite.
“I see it. I don’t really pay attention to that though,” he said. “Because no one knows what’s going on in my mind. I know what’s going on. People can make assumptions on what they think. But, at the end of the day, I’m the one that knows, and I’m the one that’s going to make the decision.”
Johnson said he also doesn’t know the source of all this Duke buzz.
“I have no clue, to be honest,” he said. “I don’t show any favoritism, at least that I think. As far as (social media) posts and stuff, I feel like I show the equal amount of love. … So I don’t know where that came from.”
Earlier this spring, Johnson acknowledged that Kentucky was his “dream school” growing up, and his feelings about Calipari’s program haven’t changed in the years since he fell in love with the Cats while watching John Wall play for UK.
Johnson, who is ranked No. 4 nationally in the new Rivals.com rankings, has been in attendance for the past two Big Blue Madness events, and he stays in regular contact with the Kentucky coaching staff. UK assistants Kenny Payne and Joel Justus were also courtside for his game Thursday.
“They keep it real simple. They’re just building a relationship with me. Talk to my coaches, my dad. They stay in contact like all the other schools — it’s the same pitch they had when they first offered me. Be a playmaker and have a chance to be special.”