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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: What Should Calipari’s Message be to Keldon Johnson?

Ever since John Calipari took over the program in 2009, the mentality that he has had, and one that has worked almost the entire time, is this is a players first program.  He only emphasized that more calling the 2010 NBA Draft the greatest night in UK history, much to the chagrin of most UK fans.  But you can’t deny that mentality and characterization of the program he built has led to the absurd amount of talent that has come through Lexington in 10 years.  But it has also led to a bunch of offseasons where some fans, whether it be a majority or minority, become frustrated because guys exit the program after 1 year without being surefire NBA talents.  Daniel Orton, Marquis Teague, Archie Goodwin, Kevin Knox, Shai Alexander all come to mind.  Knox and Alexander have had solid rookie years so their decisions may have been the right ones while Teague flamed out of the league and Goodwin is laboring in the G-League right now.  Orton wasn’t ready but also didn’t seem to click real well with Calipari so that might be a special circumstance.

Nonetheless, two more prospects will be in this interesting grey area this offseason, Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro.  I am not even going to entertain the idea of Ashton Hagans leaving and if he does fans have a legitimate right to be very frustrated.  But Johnson and Herro both show up consistently in 1st round mock drafts.  We have seen the flashes from both guys that show why NBA teams might be interested.  But we’ve also seen them play like 18 and 19 year old freshman.  Wild swings in productivity.  Poor decision making.  Absolute no-shows in some games.

For me, Johnson is the most interesting case because while Herro has a skill that translates to the current NBA in his jump shot, having watched Keldon for 38 games this year I don’t see what skill he currently has that makes him stick in the league.  Does he have a great jump shot?  No.  Is he a great defender?  No.  Can he get to the rim at will?  Against less talented opponents, absolutely, but everybody is talented in the NBA.  Is he a super athlete?  He is more athletic than most at the college level but I wouldn’t call him an ultra-athlete at this point.  Great decision maker?  His assist to turnover ratio was 1:1 this year.  Keldon is the type of guy who does a lot of things fine but nothing great.  AT. THIS. POINT.

Which is why many fans would clamor for 1 more year at Kentucky for him.  Not only does it make the team significantly better but it gives Keldon the chance to improve his game that much more.  Maybe his jump shot becomes deadly or he becomes a lock down defender.  Maybe he gets a little stronger and his ability to finish at the rim improves.  Whatever the case may be, the case of PJ Washington should be an excellent example for Keldon.  PJ was absolutely not ready to enter the NBA last season.  He got in great shape, improved his game tremendously, and now is headed for the lottery.

But this is where John Calipari comes in.  If Keldon Johnson is a sure fire 1st round NBA Draft pick, then traditionally Calipari would push them more towards leaving.  We all know the story by now of Dajuan Wagner getting his money in the NBA and then getting sick and it pushing Calipari to get his players paid in case of injury, etc.  But I would argue PJ Washington came back, GOT INJURED, and could still be a lottery pick.  And of course, the worst case happens and Keldon tears up a knee, it hurts his draft stock.  But the risk of that happening compared to the much higher possibility Keldon leaves now,  goes into the G-League and flames out of the league tells me it is worth coming back.

Starting with the SEC Tournament and taking out Abilene Christian since that was a glorified high school team, Keldon scored 4, 15, 9, 7, 14 in the last 5 games of the season.  He shot 19-52 from the field.  He shot 3-13 from the three point line.  He only had 8 assists in those 5 games compared to 7 turnovers.  And we saw him struggle defensively in several of those games.  And again, that was at the END of the season.  Despite him coming into the season as the best prospect in the class, I would say from an NBA perspective Keldon would be considered “raw”.

At the end of the day, Keldon seems like an AWESOME kid and whatever he decides, this fanbase will be fans of his for life.  But it seems shortsighted to me to say Keldon should take a guaranteed 4-5 million dollars now in a 2-year NBA contract when he could make 5.5 million or more from the lottery next year and have a game better suited for the NBA that would keep him in the league longer.  John Calipari will likely play a role in this decision.  He has to be able to see that Keldon’s game is not ready for the league right now, no matter if he would get drafted or not.  I would think as an influence in this decision it is his responsibility to suggest coming back.  That’s not been his normal message but I think Keldon is far more PJ Washington than he is Archie Goodwin.  Keldon has a golden opportunity to make himself a legend here at UK, make his NBA draft stock better, and make more money over the long run if he comes back for Year 2.


Article written by Bryan the Intern

22 Comments for BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: What Should Calipari’s Message be to Keldon Johnson?

  1. cats646
    10:34 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    STAY!! I love Keldon Johnson but he is nowhere close to NBA ready. Learn to control the ball all the way to the rim, then you’ll be ready.

    • Luether
      8:10 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

      My sources agree that Johnson, Herro, and Hagans are all “Nowhere close to NBA ready”…

  2. Duuuuuude
    10:41 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    I think it depends on the upside of staying. Herro posted some amazing numbers later in the year and saved the team with his shooting many games. Besides Washington, he was the only other player you wanted shooting the ball late in the game. What is his upside if he stays? I think it is marginal at best. I don’t see him with a great surge in production like Washington had. Johnson is another story. As Cal described Washington, he was good. He was OK. I think he could make a Washington kind of transformation if he stays one more year. If he is not willing to put in the work though, he will just be another Alex Poythress.

    • tncatrn
      12:02 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Only thing I think Tyler benefits from is a weak draft class next year. Most sites I read say it is down talent wise from this years class…I do think he can make a jump based on that, more consistent play, and some time in a weight room

  3. Matt10
    10:43 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    What does he say to Keldon? Two words.
    Archie Goodwin.

    • markshane
      11:30 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      I don’t recall seeing Cal yell or call him out like PJ. I think Cal resigned alittle with Keldon. It seemed like the talented kid who didn’t get attention because Cal new he had NBA on his mind and didn’t engage to me so it seemed. My guess is Keldon is gone will not listen- much like it seemed all year

  4. mothandras
    10:47 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Keldon is gone.. as is Herro, and probably Hagans. Our starting five gone again, and we will start fresh with a new starting five full of freshmen.

    • MrPioneer
      11:07 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      There are plenty of other teams to root for, bro. We won’t miss you.

  5. Youngcat25
    10:53 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    IMO Hagans is also like archie Goodwin. Out of control

    • Duuuuuude
      10:56 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      Goodwin was the worst by far….. Hagans could finish around the basket. He just turned it over soooooo many times.

    • makeitstop
      12:49 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

      In fairness to Hagans, he had fewer turnovers than Goodwin and 2x the assists and steals… way fewer rebounds but shooting wise about the same. Of course, Ryan Harrow really was the PG in Goodwin’s lone season. The best comparison to me was Marquis Teague, about the same numbers, little better passer but more weapons to pass to, but Teague was not the defender Hagans was mid season. Drafted at the tail end of the first round, he had parts of 2 years in the NBA, mostly G-League, and mostly G-League w occasional call ups and then… well, Korea. That’s Hagans future if he doesn’t get way better next year: he got picked clean by Bone, Waters and Harper. Notbigger guards, older guards, stronger guards. He has a decision though bc IQ is the off guard next year, in all probability and he’ll fight for time w Maxey. He knows Maxey. He may decide to take his chances in Des Moines for a year or so.

  6. burk
    11:12 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    I think all of them should stay. Keldon out of control all day everyday and Hagans needs to develop his basketball IQ. Everybody thinks Herro can shoot, his stats do not back that up last ten games 9 for 30 and who is going to defend. Couldn’t guard his man Saturday and I cannot credit him too much for Wofford, that guy shooting 3s dang near vertical to the ground at times, he was shooting out of control like Keldon is. By the way, I counted at least 18 times Keldon was blocked or missed at the rim.

    • tncatrn
      11:58 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

      See below for reply…new to this so didnt work out first time lol

  7. Big Sexy
    11:38 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Kelvin is definitely talented. I just don’t get what they see in him at this point to think he’s a first round pick.

  8. tncatrn
    11:57 am April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Burk. I think Herro improved drastically in the defense department. Outside of the Auburn game he was great all tournament defensively. But man you are right on all other counts. Hagans needs to come back more than any other guard I have seen not named Archie. Keldon is too lose with the ball, gets lost on defense, especially on baseline cuts, and Herro needs another year to polish his game. I think Keldon is gone tho regardless of what Cal says to him. Hagans may be too. Herro I think could make some ground in next years draft by coming back. This incoming draft class is not nearly as good from a talent perspective so he could make a jump..2020 class however is loaded

    • makeitstop
      1:00 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

      I agree – Keldon would benefit more from coming back qualitatively than anyone, and he could be a high lottery pick but I think an earlier poster got it right, Cal seemed to spend more time on PJ and Herro and Reid bc they listened. He still shows high on some draft boards and if bet money he is gone. Herro is a closer call bc he really could be a POY candidate next year. He needs conditioning and strength. The NBA season is 2x as long as games 48 minutes… he’s gassed when he plays both ends for 35 minutes, as a 19 would be. One more year.

  9. stevemotley
    12:45 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

    If he doesn’t improve his ball handling he’ll be in Europe playing

  10. burk
    1:11 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

    That was m6 first post. In my humble opinion and I’m trying to be nice, I just don5 think Keldon or Hagans are very good. Granted Hagans is young and probably needs 2 to 3 years in order to make the league. Keldon will bein the G league, he drives me crazy! Herro can stick but come back and get better, he also needs to learn to create off the bounce! Again, I’m trying to be nice!

  11. CatBlue in LR
    2:05 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Hey, take it easy on ACU! “Glorified high school team”–that’s a little harsh.

  12. catheaven
    3:10 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

    Johnson, Hero, and Hagans need to come back for all the reasons everyone has mentioned. IMO, the NBA doesn’t care about these boys personally. It’s a meat factory. We all have our dreams and maturity steers us to wait until the time is right to take the next step of our dreams. It is a process in life. Parents should be guiding their gifted sons. These young people are mentally prepared to enter into the man’s world at the NBA. They will never be here again. Stay where you are and develop until it’s time. Unfortunately, many parents have their own agenda and kids go too soon. They get a quick few bucks in their pockets and then it’s all over in a few years. If only, we’d waited.

  13. speaksthetruth
    4:55 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

    I love them all but are they even better than the bench players on almost all of the NBA teams? If you don’t dominate agains almost all college teams how can you compete against the NBA players?

  14. Racerr11
    6:24 pm April 3, 2019 Permalink

    I don’t think Hagan’s will go he knows hes not ready. Herro will go but definitely should not, he did not shoot consistently all year yes he did have a handful of good shooting games that’s it. Tyler did get better defensively but he definitely could get alot better in that area also but he doesn’t like to be coached either so he shouldn’t go no way no how. Keldon probably is gone no matter what.