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Keldon Johnson will be Kentucky’s superstar next season

There were times this past year that the Kentucky Wildcats didn’t have that “it” factor guy down the stretch. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander slowly became the most consistent player on the team, and Kevin Knox found his way as a dominant scorer, but it took a while to find those identities. Some would argue that “it” factor was never found, and it held the team back.

With Kentucky signee Keldon Johnson, the “it” factor for the 2018-19 season has already been written in stone.

“I came here to dominate, kill and when I go back to Oak Hill I’ll have the same mindset: dominate and kill,” Johnson said of his competition this week at the McDonald’s All-American Game in Atlanta.

With the game on the line in tonight’s All-Star event, it wasn’t Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, or any other “superstar” participating getting the praise. It was Keldon Johnson’s name being uttered over and over again. He looked at No. 1 recruit and Duke commitment RJ Barrett in the eyes with that dominate and kill mindset and did just that. He shut him down with the spotlights on.

Down by four, Johnson had a single stretch of taking a charge on Barrett (yes, Johnson took a charge in an All-Star Game) and then followed it up with a crisp assist on the other end leading to a three-pointer to cut the lead to one.

Up by one with less than 30 seconds to go, Johnson was the first person on the West squad to jump out on arguably the top recruit in all of high school basketball, forcing Barrett to fumble the ball on a shot attempt at the rim. After regaining possession, Johnson let out some emotion the BBN should be pretty excited for. Killer instinct.

On the next time down the floor, Johnson picked up Barrett yet again and swatted his shot in the game’s final seconds.

Again, this is the same RJ Barrett that finished the day with 26 points on 10-14 shooting and completely dominated the event. There wasn’t a thing anyone could do to shut him down… until Johnson came along.

The 6-foot-7 Kentucky signee wasn’t able to find his groove in the scoring department, finishing with eight points on 4-8 shooting and 0-2 from three. But still, he did whatever it took to win the game for his team in an overall meaningless exhibition match. Because his motor never stops.

And made a few highlight dunks in the process, with this coast-to-coast tomahawk slam being the big one:

It was refreshing. Watching Johnson take pride in his game every second he was on the floor was similar to Jarred Vanderbilt’s emergence in conference play this season. Watching Vanderbilt play basketball has been a joy to watch because he is relentless on the glass and his passion for the sport is contagious. His offensive skills aren’t there yet, and he was frustrating at times as a result, but not once did you want Vanderbilt to leave the court this season.

For Johnson, he has a similar intensity, defensive potential, and ability on the glass for a wing. But his offensive game is there, and it will continue to grow. He wasn’t hitting jumpers tonight, but his shot will absolutely fall at Kentucky, and his efforts in transition, off the dribble, and in the midrange will make up for it if he hits a cold spell. He is constantly shifting his game and trying new things to find the perfect recipe for success. Think Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in terms of workhorse, do-it-all prospect with a killer mindset to put the icing on the cake.

As we saw tonight, he doesn’t need to score in large quantities, take a surplus of shots, and see nonstop minutes to be happy. He played just 20 minutes, didn’t start, took just eight shots, and single-handedly won the game for the West squad with the game on the line.

The Cats were fun to watch this season, but you can argue they didn’t find a true identity until Jarred Vanderbilt put the heart and soul back in the team coming back from injury. They had their moments before, and even struggled when he returned (four-game losing streak), but the smiles and overall enjoyment of the game slowly came to fruition with this team with Vanderbilt’s presence.

Johnson will bring that same impact from day one, and there’s a chance both Vanderbilt and Johnson will share the starting lineup to kick off the season if the Wildcat freshman returns. Two contagious personalities and overall players to push the rest of the players to follow suit. If PJ Washington and Quade Green return as expected, two players with big personalities and mean streaks of their own, we’re talking four starters with larger-than-life mindsets. It can lead to a special season with a lineup of dogs.

“I definitely want to bring energy and help everybody get going,” Johnson told KSR this week. “I’ve always been vocal.  I’m trying to emphasize being more vocal on defense because it’s going to win most of our games at the next level.”

Kentucky fans wanted a player with a killer mindset and that “it” factor. Before even taking a step on campus, they got one.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

40 Comments for Keldon Johnson will be Kentucky’s superstar next season

  1. Smyrna_Cat
    10:23 pm March 28, 2018 Permalink

    I am impressed. Impressive and entertaining article. Kudos.

    Johnson is the killer alpha dog.

    • Luether
      4:18 pm March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Yes it’s an entertaining article but embellished quite a bit. Don’t think it’s right to put those kind of expectations on any incoming Freshman. Johnson will struggle just like all of the others have…

  2. 72uksprinter
    10:27 pm March 28, 2018 Permalink


  3. kbo24
    10:40 pm March 28, 2018 Permalink

    …no pressure, Keldon. It’s ‘written in stone’, he says.

    Seriously, I’m sure he’s going to be an EXCELLENT player for us next year, but let’s wait until we know what our team is gonna look like, or until he plays a couple games before we declare him a superstar.

  4. Rabbi Li
    10:41 pm March 28, 2018 Permalink

    WOW… can you imagine:

    PG – Immanuel Quickley | Quade Green
    SG – Keldon Johnson | Jemarl Baker | Quade Green | Tyler Herro
    SF – Jarred Vanderbilt | Keldon Johnson | Tyler Herro
    PF – PJ Washington | Sacha Killeya-Jones
    C – Wenyen Gabriel | Nick Richards | Sacha Killeya-Jones

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    Kevin Knox
    Hamidou Diallo

    Talk about positionless basketball. Keldon is going to fit right in on this team. Imagine the energy from Johnson + Vanderbilt + Gabriel… that’s a house of FIRE!

    ••••• As far as matchup against Duke:
    PG • Quickley (is greater than) Tre Jones
    SG • Johnson ~ Reddish
    SF • Vanderbilt ~ Williamson
    PF • Washington (is less than) Barrett
    C • Gabriel (is greater than) Bolden

    ••••• Other Matchups:
    Green ~ Duval
    Jemarl Baker | Tyler Herro ~ Gary Trent Jr.

    ••••• Legend:
    (Greater Than)
    (Less Than)
    ~ Toss Up

    The reality of the matchups is Johnson has Barrett’s number on defense so he’d like switch with PJ unless Reddish started hurting PJ with speed.

    The problem with this Duke team is Reddish is a legitimate ace from 3 so if you go zone due to Duke’s weight in the paint (Zion at 270, Bolden at 246) then Reddish’s will kill you from deep.

    This is a game where Sacha Killeya-Jones could REALLY shine as an experienced big man. He has to work this summer like he’s never worked before. Maybe Nick Richards can get on the Breakfast Club with Vando as his new spirit animal.

    I like my team!

    • wyatts1
      11:42 pm March 28, 2018 Permalink

      Great break down, and I agree basically with what you say but in a lot of games I would play PJ at the 5 until Richards steps up and plays like the big we all hope he can be. Basically my starter’s are:
      Quickly at the point
      Green at the shooting guard
      Johnson at small forward
      Vando at the power
      And PJ being center.
      With a great bench as Barker being our shooter, Gabriel being our stretch 4, Richards, and Jones being our big boys. Either way we have some upperclassmen with talent, I can’t wait ??

    • Rick_S
      1:03 am March 29, 2018 Permalink


    • BlakeBlueNation
      6:49 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Rick_s ^^^

    • JTHinton
      8:53 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Love the breakdown Rabbi, but we’re not sure yet about injuries, who leaves, etc.

    • Jiminy Crickets
      9:26 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Reddish is a shooter, probably the most disappointing recruiting loss for me. I don’t believe Zion will be a star, he is to short for the block (especially if they widen the FT lane) and not enough handle or ability to shoot to play the 3. Duke is always an outside shooting team, but Trent and Duvall can’t shoot, neither can Zion. Duke will be good, but K won’t be able to rely on zone, as his big guys are short and fat. We’ll see what K does. If either Duvall or Trent declare for draft, it gets funny for Duke having to play four small forwards on floor at same time

    • Rabbi Li
      9:45 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      I like your lineup. I just can’t imagine not starting Gabriel as a Jr.

      He’s the spirit animal of our teams. The energy he brings must be on the court and now that he’s developed an outside shot it will stretch a Duke team struggling to play man to man (which will infect Duke even moreso in 2018 with no experienced upperclassmen who get it).

      Having Duval, Trent, & Bolden out there as your upperclassmen is the swiss cheese of defense and the louder Coach K yells at them (in his high pitch cracking rat voice) the more they resent him.

    • rabblerabblerabble
      9:45 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Interesting write-up, Rabbi. As far as how UK may match up with Duke next year, why do you think Quickley is (or will be) a better PG than Tre Jones? I’ll admit to having seen neither one of them play (didn’t watch the McDAAG last night), but Jones is ranked ahead of Quickley in pretty much every recruiting ranking I’ve seen (ESPN, Rivals, 247). Granted, it’s usually by only about 10 spots, but figured you would put that in the “toss up” category at least.

      Duval will be in the NBA next year, but c’mon, he is a more dynamic player than Quade. Quade definitely a better shooter (38% from three compared to 29% for Duval), but I think most people, even UK fans, would take Duval over Quade.

      And I think you’re sleeping on Gary Trent, Jr., who is also probably going to declare. Dude averaged 14 a game and shot 40% from three. No way the duo of Jemarl Baker (who has not played a minute of college basketball) and Tyler Herro is a toss-up with Trent, Jr. But again, he’ll be gone next year anyway.

    • Rabbi Li
      9:54 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Jiminy Crickets – Reddish is great because he’s athletic, can really shoot, and is unselfish.

      Rarely do you see a player with all 3. He will be the glue of Duke.

      Keldon Johnson (watch his tapes on youtube) didn’t just learn how to stop RJ Barrett last night. He’s done it everytime they play each other. Keldon has the legitimate potential to be the next Derek Anderson… but with even more authority.

      Because Coach K forces players into his mold… it doesn’t work in the one & done (since 1 year, or even 2 isn’t enough time to break the egos of these kids today). Seriously… Coach K switching to zone after Calipari did it is just comedy. This is why Duke has whiffed the past 2 seasons with the top team (4 NCAA wins combined).

      Coach K can’t win when coach K doesn’t have control. And once he switched his recruiting he let go of the rope (control).

    10:52 pm March 28, 2018 Permalink

    Thanks for this. I couldn’t stand to watch this game, because the commentators were such pro-Duke morons. You’d think it was Duke-UNC at Cameron, and not the McD’s game.

  6. Hale
    11:27 pm March 28, 2018 Permalink

    We still do not have any proven shooters. Hopefully Baker will be, and green should improve, but im not sure anyblody else will be consistent shooters. Especially not quickley or johnson.

    • ClutchCargo
      12:37 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Come back and revisit this comment in February 2019…

    • BlakeBlueNation
      6:49 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Disagree. Duval has had an awful season when come to shooting and the only reason you maybe think he’s better than green is his height. Gary Trent struggled a LOT this year and with 2 great shooters coming to UK I’d take them over Trent any day. Reddish won’t be a factor in Duke as Barrett and Williamson are already on the team. So flip those all around bud 🙂

  7. FlatTopsAndBlockedShots
    11:59 pm March 28, 2018 Permalink

    Jay Williams spent the past 72 hours on the ESPN network of channels absolutely slurping Zion. Honestly the dude has Anthony Bennett written all over him.

    • ClutchCargo
      9:32 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Exactly. Great dunker, but I’m still trying to figure out exactly what he brings to an actual basketball team.

  8. Cryingtheblues
    3:43 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

    Let’s hope we can throw EJ Montgomery in that mix.

  9. devotedsoles528
    5:49 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

    Haha! Jack, you completely over sold those two defensive plays. I love the heart from KJ but he didn’t swat anybody. He def got away w/ a foul. Barrett and Reddish looked like superstars. Zion had trouble doing Zion things against grown men, which I anticipated would be an issue for him in college. The UK guys didn’t do a whole lot in that game, but at the end of the day it was a fun event for these kids. Excited to see KJ and Quickly suit up in blue! Go Cats!

      7:09 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      I’m with you on this one lol

    • jimmer
      8:00 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Totally agree. Some sensationalism going on. Nice to see but pump the brakes a bit. // On another note RJ crying to the refs in an all-star game. Good lord it keeps getting worse.

    • Rabbi Li
      8:54 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      jimmer – It was like Barrett was born with Duke blood in his body.

      Once I see the floor dive & then a slap or 2 we will know he’s got the fragile heart.

    • Cat68
      8:59 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Agree 100%. Probably got away with two fouls.

    • Wade
      9:06 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Zion hype is ridiculous. We’re infatuated with a big guy jumping like that I mean wow. He can score and dunk but that was on a bunch of South Carolina low country boys. They don’t play basketball. He will be a bust at Duke. I think he woulda flourished In uk’s style. Man and get up and down the court he would find more opportunity in transition . At Duke they will shoot 3s give Barrett and reddish the green light and Zion will have to work double teams in the post, that doesn’t sound like what he wants. He hasn’t signed with Duke yet ,cal go get him from kount zzzzfishky and tell him to come dominate and kill play defense and we beat people in the post together and kick out this yr to baker Herro Quickley Quade and wenyen. We’re deep this yr E.J. Montgomery is great but I want Zion and Hagans can’t stay in next yrs class with wiseman and we’ll take them next yr.

    • Jiminy Crickets
      9:20 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Before he committed to Duke I said Zion would be the next Anthony Bennett. I got destroyed over that. He is a dunk sensation, but he can’t run, pass or shoot, and for a 4 he’s to short. He may push bolden for most hype/least production

  10. kfwa
    6:48 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

    I hope the kid does come here with a chip on his shoulder, but this article is wishful thinking.

  11. Brad
    9:04 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

    Not a foul especially on the last one. He walled up and avoided contact. The one where barrett lost the ball maybe

  12. Racerr11
    9:06 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

    I agree didn’t look like Johnson did much on either play, when I watched the video I was like I didn’t see anything other than Johnson’s excitement. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad to have him for sure but we will wait and see. I agree that’s all they kept showing we’re duke name and players but if the outcome is the same for duke next year as it has been the last 2 years I will be laughing again. Out first round and out after sweet sixteen I think old K is finding out how hard Cal’s job is.

    • Wade
      9:32 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      CoachK won’t like it bc one and done means season is one and done too. There’s no core returning to start plays and run them. It’s all new and when upperclassmen have to stay it hurts then bc they start over with new freshmen. Duke will have that problem this yr and we won’t. We could start Quade diallo knox wenyen and pj. Throw in baker and Herro as shooters to spot up. And vando playing time at 4 and 5. Quickley as a backup and Keldon for defense and energy and wow we still have nick and maybe skj/E.J./zion(won’t give up want this kid)too. Lots of tools for a feller to use.

    • Wade
      9:33 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Don’t forget we have B-rad

  13. Jiminy Crickets
    9:30 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

    So what this article says to me is, in a game where defense is rarely played, and both teams score 130+, neither of UKs guys could find a bucket, and at the end KJ surprised everyone by playing defense in a game he shouldn’t be playing defense

    • kyle heavy
      11:00 am March 29, 2018 Permalink


    • Le Docteur
      1:04 pm March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Barrett definitely has the Duke whine-to-the-refs routine down.

    • RC
      11:23 am March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Bingo! Both our kids combined for 11 points in a game that totaled 259 points. Are. You. Kidding. Me?

      Look, I’m as big a Calipari fan as their is but we’re getting KILLED on the recruiting trail. I don’t know why when you consider how much success our guys are having in the NBA, so maybe we’re not willing to play the dirty games that everyone else might be playing? According to the media all the elite kids are getting paid in some fashion, so maybe Cal is staying clear of the obvious guys. I don’t know.

      Either way, UK isn’t landing the truly elite kids anymore and last night proves it.

    • henderblue
      1:01 pm March 29, 2018 Permalink

      RC it doesn’t prove anything to me. Wasn’t exactly a whole lot of passing going on in that game. A lot of hot dogging by kids with the ball in their hands. Our boys are gonna be fine. I was as impressed by Johnson’s down the lane dunk, as anyone’s. But he didn’t have the ball in his hands very often

  14. Rabbi Li
    12:10 pm March 29, 2018 Permalink

    RC has to be a Louisville fan in serious doldrums.

    Calipari never got ‘the best player’ every year. Never. Didn’t happen. We got Davis one year. We get top 10 & top 20. You’ve completely misrepresented what Cal does and used that as an argument as ‘proof.’

    What Cal historically gets (more than any other coach in the modern era) is the best ‘class.’ So Duke edges us out twice in 10 years. 2nd doesn’t cut it for you? It certainly splits your argument like a wet set of buttcheeks.

    BTW, who won the NCAA tournament? Neither Duke nor Kentucky.

    Your argument is a “damned if do/damned if don’t” clusterbomb of gibberish.

    I’ll take Quickley and Keldon Johnson ALL DAY LONG. Meanwhile you’ll judge Calipari’s entire recruiting year on points in the McDonalds game & a weak (get it out of the paint) sauce spasm that keeps creeping out of your line beard.

    • RC
      3:17 pm March 29, 2018 Permalink

      Guys, I’m not a UofL fan. Seriously? Been posting here for years. So hear me out:

      2012 team built on AD #1, MKG #4, Teague #8. Year before we landed Knight #4, Jones #9, Lamb #29.

      2015 team built on Lyles #6, KAT #9, Booker #18, Ulis #25. Year before we landed Randle #3, Harrisons #5&9, Dakari #7, Young #8, Lee #25.

      Last year’s squad was Bam #5, Fox #6, Monk #9, Wenyan #14, SKJ #25.

      This year’s team was Knox #10, PJ #12, Richards #17, Vando #19, Quade #24 & Shai #35.

      Do you sense a trend? We’re getting lower ranked kids and the rankings can’t be fully trusted to begin with.

    • Rabbi Li
      10:23 pm March 29, 2018 Permalink

      RC – Calipari doesn’t reference & ESPN and see who they have ranked the highest and then go after that guy.

      The people who do High School basketball rankings are not only horrible at what they do, if they were good (without college educations or technical skill) they would be selling cars on a lot somewhere. They aren’t… they are the armpit of skill, so they found a niche. But someone has to do it.

      So we take their rankings with a grain of salt. You on the other hand are the only person left paying Marc Maggard for his newsletter.

      High School rankings are based on initial ranks by a select few (all projection against talent that is unrankable) and then the hype train distorts it even further.

      Cal picks specific players who FIT a select mold per position. Cal’s guys are almost always from a good home (even if it’s deep in a ghetto and only 1 mom). They are unselfish, intelligent, open (not closed off), givers (not takers), & the diamonds of their environment (whatever that is… whereever that is).

      No ranking service has anything to do with that. Ranking services would put Lance Stevenson at the same rank as Anthony Davis as HS Jr’s or Sr’s. That’s lunacy… AND WHAT YOUR ENTIRE ARGUMENT IS BASED ON.

      You’re alarmism (a psychological condition) is at such a level that you are yelling FIRE… and we have the 6th ranked class in the country (with the youngest class in the NCAA). THAT IS LUNACY.

      How did you live through the Tubby years? My god sit down and quit bugging out… no one else taking the drugs that you take. Go camping for a weekend… slow your roll Felisha.

      Do you think Tyler Herro got a fair shake on his ranking? Do you even know why Cal recruited him?

      Shai is a perfect example (from your post). He was ranked 35 and is projected to go in the top 12 in the draft. Just stop.

      The basis of your argument makes your defense of it comedy at this point.