I will admit I was not, and am not, thrilled with another group of UK players headed out the door for the NBA Draft this year. I just don’t think anybody can reasonably say that the games of Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro are “ready” for the NBA. We certainly can be proven wrong in the next year but having watched them for 37 games, they looked more like freshman than NBA prospects most of the year. Nonetheless, their dreams, the money, and the overall atmosphere surrounding the program consistently is pushing these type of guys out after 1 year. Same happened with Marquis Teague, James Young, Devin Booker, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, etc. Some of these guys have flourished in the NBA but it didn’t seem like they were slam dunks when they left UK after 1 year.
But it is also important to take a step back and have some perspective about many of the names they have rolled through UK for just 1 season. We have become blinded to just how unbelievable it is that we get the kind of production we have seen out of 18 and 19 year olds over Calipari’s 10 seasons. I fall into the trap too. Keldon Johnson will go down as one of the most frustrating players of this era for me. And yet, he scored 498 points this year, a 13.5 points per game average. Rex Chapman scored 464 points in his freshman season, a 16.0 points per game average. Rex is thought of as an all-time legend and having one of the greatest freshman seasons in school history. Keldon nearly matched that season and many call him a disappointment. In fact, consider this
FRESHMAN POINTS BEFORE CALIPARI
1. Rex Chapman: 464 points
2. Chris Mills: 459 points
3. Sam Bowie: 440 points
Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson both scored more points than those guys this season. Along with another 17 freshman in the Calipari era. A total of 19 players have beaten the previous freshman scoring record since Cal’s arrival. And many of them were considered disappointments as freshman: Kevin Knox, Aaron Harrison, Archie Goodwin, Keldon.
Similar numbers can be produced for rebounds, steals, assists, blocks, whatever you want to come up with.
We have actually become a little distorted in what we expect of these players. It’s hard, no doubt. High preseason rankings doom these guys much of the time. The Bahamas trip actually became a burden for this team because it only increased expectations unnecessarily. But the reality is that Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro just completed two of the best freshman seasons in UK history. Better than Sam Bowie. Better than just about anybody before 2009.
But the catch is those players pre-Calipari came back and expanded their legacy within the program. Can you imagine a Tyler Herro for 3 seasons, like Patrick Patterson. Or a Keldon Johnson for even 2 seasons, like a Ron Mercer. Unfortunately that is not the world we live in. And I think it has created a mentality within this program and fanbase that has caused us to completely lose perspective on just how special the players we have seen over the last 10 years have actually been.