Keldon Johnson tried to play it cool. The Champions Classic has never been the first game of the season, so it was a big deal when it was announced the college basketball season would kick off with one of its premiere events.
Johnson knew Kentucky would start its season against Duke. He answered the question with a straight face but couldn’t help but smile towards the end of his answer.
“Duke,” Johnson answered. “Everybody knows it. It’s no secret. Everybody out there knows that. Duke is our first game.”
He’s right. Everyone knows it’s Duke, but Johnson tried to play it cool again when discussing the matchup in Indianapolis next month.
“I’m pretty focused on just getting right now,” Johnson said. “But when that game comes they’ve got to throw the ball up and we’re going to go out there and get after them. The best team will come out victorious.”
Johnson and Duke commit R.J. Barrett turned a playful McDonald’s All-American game into a heated back-and-forth finish. Barrett has always been considered the better player and prospect, and that wasn’t news to Johnson.
He uses it as motivation.
“I wouldn’t say disrespected but I think it definitely made me grind harder and harder,” Johnson said. “It is what it is.”
Johnson never considered Duke and was never really recruited by the Blue Devils, which may add to his motivation, but he was heavily recruited by other ACC schools.
And for a few weeks, especially if Johnson’s dad (Chris Johnson) had his way, it seemed like one of those ACC schools may land Johnson.
Johnson’s dad had reservations about UK and wanted his son to go elsewhere. Luckily for UK, Keldon always preferred the Cats.
“At some point me and my dad had a disagreement about going to Kentucky,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say it was necessarily about numbers. I think he was thinking otherwise of fit, but we ultimately came down to the right decision for me and the best decision for me. Me and my dad have always been on the same page, we always talk about things. We just talked it out and we made the best decisions for me and that was to be here at Kentucky.”
There wasn’t any bad blood between Chris Johnson and UK’s staff, but he thought other schools may be a better fit. Keldon said his dad was coming from a good place and eventually came around to Kentucky.
“If y’all know my dad he speaks his opinion very well,” Johnson said. “He wants the best for me. I’m his son, so, it took some time to get him over but we did a great job with it.”
Now he’s at UK, he’ll have a chance to go against R.J. Barrett and the Blue Devils in his first college game, and if the Bahamas trip was any indication the Cats will try to win that game and win it big.
“If we can beat a team by 30 we’re going to try and beat them by 30,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to try and take it easy on no team. I think that’s just our mindset, we’re just going out there trying to destroy the other team, try to kill the other team. Like I said, if we can beat them by 30 we’re going to try our best to beat them by 30.”
Check out the rest of KSR’s 2018-19 Basketball Preview Series: