Tuesday night’s game against Duke may mean just a little bit more to certain Kentucky players, especially Keldon Johnson and E.J. Montgomery.
For Johnson, it’s an opportunity to outshine and outplay Duke freshmen R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, who were ranked ahead of him in the 2018 high school class rankings, and project higher on NBA draft boards, as similar players.
In a preseason one-on-one with KSR, Johnson said, “When that game comes and they throw the ball up, we’re gonna go out there and get after them and the best team will come out victorious.”
He also said he doesn’t see his ranking behind Barrett as “disrespectful,” but it does push him.
“It makes me grind harder and harder,” he told KSR. “It is what it is. If they think that he’s better, then I’ll just go out there and keep going at him or whoever else they put in front of me that they say is better.”
For E.J. Montgomery, Kentucky’s game against Duke is a head-to-head matchup of the two finalists in his recruitment. Many believed he would pick Duke, but he instead chose UK in a decision shortly after the McDonald’s All-American game. He insists nothing happened between him and the Duke commits at that game (the video isn’t convincing), and that it’s not a big rivalry.
“I want to beat those guys really bad, but I also want to beat everybody else really bad,” Montgomery said. “So I don’t think it’s a rivalry. It’s just a game I want to compete in.”
“I know those guys, we’re very close, and it’s going to be fun to compete against them.”