The Kentucky Wildcats are off to another excellent start to the season, picking up a 74-71 victory over LSU on Wednesday night to improve to 12-2 on the young season. But even as exciting as this season has been, it’s hard for fans not to imagine what could come next year, when a bunch of the current Wildcats could team with another talented freshman class that includes three current commits and a few more which might later come.
One of those high school commits is Keldon Johnson, who back in early November became the second player to join the Wildcats’ 2018 recruiting class, following in the footsteps of Baltimore point guard Immanuel Quickley (Wisconsin guard Tyler Herro would later be the third member of the class). At the time of his commitment, KSR spoke with Johnson’s high school coach to find out what kind of player Kentucky would be getting next fall. You can read that article here.
But with the high school season comfortably underway, we decided to follow back up with Oak Hill Academy and this time, speak to the man himself, the future Cat, Keldon Johnson.
Below is our Q&A with Johnson (our questions are in bold). There, Johnson discusses his senior season, what convinced him to go to Kentucky and if he is helping recruit any other players to Lexington. Enjoy!
The place I guess I’d start very simply is this: It’s your first year at Oak Hill Academy (after transferring from Huntington Prep). How are you enjoying the year? It’s your senior year, you’re closer to home (than when you were at Huntington). How’s everything going so far?
Everything is going great here at Oak Hill. It’s definitely different than any other high school, prep school [that I’ve been around]. It gives you that edge for the next level of basketball.
Why do you say that? What is Oak Hill doing that will not only help you next year at Kentucky, but also throughout your basketball career?
First off, I play for a legendary coach, Steve Smith. Everything up here is just school and basketball. There are no outside distractions. You don’t have a choice but to focus on school and basketball. And if you focus on school and basketball you evolve, mature and I do think it’ll get me ready for that next level?
For those who haven’t had a chance to follow, how is your senior year going? Also, does playing at a school with other elite players (Kansas commit David McCormack and Florida commit Keyontae Johnson are amongst his teammates) help you for next year, when you’ll be playing with so many stars at Kentucky?
I would say that it prepares me pretty well. Being able to play with other good players, I think it really makes me better. To play with other good players day-in and day-out, going against those guys in practice, I really benefit from it every day.
On the court, how would you say your season going so far?
It’s going pretty well. We’re 21-0. I’m doing pretty well, having a pretty good season [Johnson is averaging a team-high 21 points per game, and shooting 54 percent from the field for the No. 2 ranked team in the country). Hopefully it continues that way.
I know you’ve talked about it a lot, but take me through the recruitment with Kentucky. It seems like things moved pretty quickly, receiving an offer late in the summer, an official visit and then commitment. Take us through the decision for you to go to Kentucky?
At the beginning, I sat down with my parents and I told them that I wanted to get my decision over with in the first signing period. And once things got going, I thought that Kentucky would be the best fit for me. I talked to Coach Cal, I talked to my parents, and it was at that time that I knew that it would be the best fit for me. Me and my family came to an agreement, and it all came together.
Why do you personally think Kentucky was the best fit for you?
A. I feel like me and Coach Cal, we clicked from Day 1. He was very honest with me. Coach Payne and Coach Justus, we all clicked. So we clicked from Day 1, everyone was honest, and I think they can get me where I want to go.
You say they were “honest.” What were they honest about exactly?
[Cal was honest about] his is expectations. The things that he expects and the things he knows I can do. He didn’t really try to compare me to this player or that player. He compared me to Keldon Johnson, and told me that he really just wants me to be the best Keldon Johnson I can be.
I could be mistaken, but I’ve read a lot of places that your dad wasn’t sold on Kentucky. Not to say that he thought Kentucky is a “bad” school or anything, but more that he needed some convincing.
In a way, I guess you could say that. He thought some other things might be better for me, but I thought Kentucky was the best for me. And I just sat down with him, and we had a man-to-man, heart-to-heart conversation and I made my decision [with his blessing] from there.
I know you took your official visit with [fellow Kentucky commit] Immanuel Quickley and you both committed a pretty short time after. Did you guys connect on the trip?
Me and Immanuel we get along pretty well. I’ve always known Immanuel [for a while]. So with me and Immanuel being on an official visit together, we both kind of clicked there, kept talking after that and then we committed… He’s an amazing point guard.
Let me ask you this: There are now a lot of kids starting to make their college decisions. Are you now an active recruiter for Kentucky?
I mean, I guess you could say that. I don’t think I’m the best active recruiter. I’ve been so busy with high school basketball and things like that, but I think my future teammates that have committed have done a good job recruiting. I think they’ve been picking up the slack for me.
Have you had a chance to watch any Kentucky games this year?
I definitely watch them a lot. You’re going to have to come to play [against them] from the jump because they’re going to bring it to you. The only weakness I’d see is that they’re young, but that’s a strength too because the young players have so much upside.
Final question: [According to a tip to KSR] There’s a rumor floating around that you’re actually going to be performing with the Oak Hill dance team later this year? Any truth to that rumor?
Oh, man. Who told you?
Everyone knows. It’s all over the internet
Oh man, me and a couple of other players, we’re on the dance squad. We haven’t practiced much because we’ve been on the road. But yes, we are practicing to dance with some of the other kids here, and we’re currently on the dance team.
How would you grade yourself as a dancer?
[Laughing]. I can’t dance at all. I’m always open for new things, and I’m willing to try it. Why not?
Anything else that you’d want a Kentucky fan who doesn’t know a lot about you to know?
We’re going to get a lot of wins next year.
Aaron Torres is covering basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or e-mail at ATorres00@gmail.com. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”