When speaking with Keldon Johnson’s trainer, Jeremy Grubbs (now an assistant coach at First Love Christian in Washington, Pa.), on this week’s Hardly Committed (click here to listen), he casually referenced the time Keldon Johnson dropped 44 points in a comeback win against UNC’s JV team back in 2017.
Yup. That’s right. It was Johnson’s junior year of high school and it was one of his last games at Huntington Prep before transferring to Oak Hill Academy to be closer to family for his senior season. Grubb’s, an assistant coach at Huntington Prep at the time, said that was when things started to click for the now 6-foot-6, 211-pound Kentucky freshman.
“We went down to play UNC’s JV team and we were down 25 points in the first half and it’s 15 white kids shooting the crap out of the ball,” Grubbs said. “The second half we come back and he ended up with 44, he had a game-tying shot, a game-winning shot in overtime. He said after the game he didn’t realize how hard those guys were going to play and I think that kinda took him to another level seeing how hard college kids play before he got to college.
“I think that turned him up another level and then he had the big summer, then Coach Cal in August and offered him. I think he just skyrocketed since that day and kinda saw what it took to play at the collegiate level and beyond obviously.”
So, I went to see what I could find about the game. UNC is one of just a few schools that still use a JV team. This started as a freshmen team, as every college had until 1972 when the NCAA allowed freshmen to have instant eligibility. Most teams ditched their freshmen teams over the years but UNC turned theirs into a JV squad. The players aren’t on scholarship and are basically competing over a two-year span to be able to walk-on at UNC for their final two seasons.
In the meantime they’re able to continue their basketball career, wear UNC jerseys and play in the Dean Dome. Pretty cool if you ask me. But this group of walk-ons had their tails handed to them by Keldon Johnson back in 2017.
Here’s a blurb from the game recap:
The UNC team was and still is coached by assistant Hubert Davis. At the time Johnson was being recruited by Maryland, NC State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. As Grubbs said, Johnson blew up the following summer and just a few months into his senior season at Oak Hill he committed to Kentucky.
You can read the entire game recap, which praises Johnson even more, right here. In my interview with Grubbs he talks more about Johnson’s game, the R.J. Barrett vs. Keldon Johnson rivalry and clears up the controversy surrounding Keldon’s dad and UK.
Hubert Davis and UNC will see more of Johnson this December in Chicago.