The Jordan Brand Classic is set to tip off at right now on ESPN2, where I’ll be providing all the coverage you need during the game and after.
Before we see Tyler Herro (and possibly) Keldon Johnson take the floor, let me update you on everything I got the chance to see yesterday afternoon at the open practice session and Media Day.
I talked a bit about it before, but Tyler Herro has an outstanding day in front of elite competition and NBA scouts. When talking/listening on the sidelines with those on the attendance, including some high-level executives and analysts, Herro was easily one of the biggest surprises of the drill and five-on-five scrimmage. In the media room after the event, analysts raved about him and there were whispers about how Kentucky was able to steal him away from Wisconsin.
When I got into the actual Media Day, at least four players singled Herro out as the guy people need to watch out for. Some had seen him play before, others had no idea he was as talented as he is. Two of them said he needed to see a jump in the overall player rankings.
You can check out my entire update from him below:
As for Keldon Johnson, players raved about him being a dog and applauding his ability to take over the game. He tried to stretch out his ankle and keep it loose to avoid swelling. He then laced up his sneakers and put shots up, hoping he could get in for the scrimmage.
He told KSR there was a “low chance” he would play in today’s game, but he would try to give it a shot if he felt comfortable enough. There is no update at this time on his status.
We’ll talk more about the Kentucky guys after the game today and if the media is able to talk to them again. But beyond them, there were several interesting things going on with the other players participating.
Duke forward Zion Williamson didn’t participate yesterday and will sit out the event with an injured right hand. He actually had a hard cast on all the way from his elbow to his thumb, which is a new development. RJ Barrett didn’t even show up to Brooklyn for the event so he could rest.
UNC’s Nassir Little is a sure-fire star. As simple as this may sound, he just has a knack for getting buckets. Great athleticism, killer instinct, motor, and pure talent. I really enjoy watching him play, and I hope he never suits up for North Carolina so I can keep liking him.
Cam Reddish, Javonte Smart, and Jalen Smith also really impressed me. The Cats will play both Reddish (Duke) and Smart (LSU) this season, so be sure to watch out for them tonight too.
As for former Syracuse commit Darius Bazley, he made a horrible decision to not go to college. He’s attempting to go the G-League route, hoping to make money immediately and start learning the NBA system. Thing is, he really did nothing for me at all when I watched him yesterday. He can’t shoot, really struggles scoring, and completely relies on athleticism to rebound and play defense (and he still didn’t do that well.) He is a major project, and avoiding the structure and development as a college athlete was (in my opinion) a big mistake. I’m sure you guys will see what I’m talking about tonight.
Another thing that really caught my attention is just how good John Calipari is at his job. In general, the guys that I looked out for were Bol Bol, Shareef O’Neal, and Romeo Langford, among others. I wanted to figure out what the disconnect was between the Kentucky coaching staff and some of these players for such lack of communication and minimal recruiting.
Let me start with Langford, because I got a ton of criticism on Twitter for saying he has major holes in his game. The top-ten guard from New Albany is an incredible scorer and a silky-smooth shooter. As the scrimmage and drills went on and he got comfortable, he was one of the best shooters there. I think he would have been a great player for Kentucky, and I would’ve loved for him to come.
That being said, there ARE holes in his game, and I could understand why John Calipari wasn’t willing to battle with his father over the course of his career. He doesn’t play with much intensity and plays in the background instead of taking the game over like he’s capable of. He lets the play come to him instead of making the plays happen on his own. On defense, he has length and potential to be great, but he’s definitely more focused on the other end of the floor.
For his dad to argue and call out Coach Cal for not playing him enough, at a Team USA event in Egypt nonetheless, could you imagine the potential issues during the actual college season? Inside whispers have indicated Calipari wasn’t in love with how Langford’s game seemed to plateau a bit, but he was still willing to take a shot on him. When the Egypt situation happened, he completely lost his interest. I guess better wording would have been he wasn’t worth the hassle.
As for O’Neal, there never seemed to be any real interest from Kentucky. When I saw him in person, he fumbled balls in the paint, got worked on offense and defense by stronger players, yet he still called for the ball on almost every possession down the court. I think he will be a nice player in several years, but he’s just so raw right now and I’m not sure how much he’d be able to produce as a freshman. He told reporters at Media Day that he wasn’t going to be a one and done and understands there is a lot of work to do, which is extremely impressive in today’s world. I’m sure if he really wanted to come to Kentucky, Coach Cal would’ve made it happen, but the team definitely preferred more of an immediate impact guy like EJ Montgomery.
With Bol Bol, he was very impressive offensively, but relied on length to just reach over shorter defenders. He didn’t do much on defense, and for a 7-foot-3 center, the first thing you look for is shot-blocking ability. You see it some in his highlight tapes, and maybe he just wasn’t putting forth his effort in a meaningless scrimmage, but he was a step slower than everyone else on the floor on defense. When he competes against dominant post players in college, he’s going to get pushed around. He will almost certainly be a one-and-done, so his flaws will likely be emphasized even more in the NBA.
Let’s see what our Cats can do on the big stage.