When Johnny Juzang returned home to California following Kentucky’s abrupt end to the season earlier this month, John Calipari knew there was a chance the freshman guard would not return to campus when players were allowed back.
With transfer buzz already picking up following Christmas break just a few months back, the Kentucky head coach told Juzang there would likely be individuals in his ear telling him it was in his best interest to transfer closer to home.
It was up to him, though, if he wanted to listen.
“[Juzang] said, “Coach, I’m going to put my name in the [NCAA transfer] portal,”‘ Calipari said of his conversation with Juzang in a Saturday evening appearance on the SEC Network. “We had told him before he went back to California, “You’re going to be hit left and right about coming back home.”‘
As he stressed immediately following Juzang’s transfer decision, Calipari doesn’t want the Los Angeles, CA native to leave. If Juzang wants to learn what it takes to be a professional basketball player, Kentucky is the place to make it happen.
“We had a great talk, I loved coaching him, he got better all year. This is a unique play,” Calipari said. “What I said to him was simply, “You’re going to learn to fight here. You learn to take what you want. You learn that when other players are better than you, you figure things out. Nothing is guaranteed.” You lose that, because if you want to be professional, that’s the most important thing you learn here. Learn to fight, learn to take what you want, nothing guaranteed. We’re not making promises, you take it. Don’t lose that.”
If he chooses to pull his name out of the transfer portal, Calipari will be thrilled. If not, he knows his relationship with Juzang will continue years down the road.
“My feeling will be, five years from now or two years from now, he’s making a decision, he’ll call. “Coach, what do you think?”’ the Kentucky head coach said. “And I told him, if you choose to come back, I’m fine. I’m not going to hold anything against him. For these young kids, this is a hard deal.”
This falls right in line with the comments the UK head coach had immediately after the decision on Friday afternoon.
“I talked to Johnny last night along with his family and let him know if he wants to come back here that this option is always open to him,” Calipari said. “Johnny had a great year and really got better as the season went on. I always enjoyed coaching him, and if there’s an opportunity to continue to do so, I would welcome it with open arms because Johnny is a great kid and a skilled basketball player with a bright future.”
As a freshman, Juzang finished the year averaging 2.9 points (37.7% shooting, 32.6% 3PT, 83.3% FT), 1.9 rebounds, and 0.3 assists in 12.3 minutes per contest.
After a slow start to the season, the 6-foot-6 guard managed three consecutive games of multiple made shots against Arkansas, Georgia, and Texas Tech, followed it up with a 13-point performance on 4-4 shooting from three at Tennessee, and closed out the season with a 10-point, 4-6 shooting effort in 33 minutes at Florida.
Out of high school, the No. 33 overall prospect in the 2019 247Sports Composite Rankings chose the Wildcats over offers from Kansas, Virginia, and UCLA, among others.