Has John Calipari found his star wing prospect for the class of 2020? Judging by the comments of one of the best in the nation, it certainly sounds like he has a shot.
With the Nike EYBL circuit officially in full swing, 2020 five-star forward and consensus top-three prospect Jalen Johnson turned heads this afternoon by telling reporters that Kentucky was his “dream school” as a kid.
“I really like Kentucky a lot, that’s been my dream school growing up,” Johnson said. “I liked watching John Wall when he was there, and that’s kind of when it started. I just had more interest from there throughout the years.”
He added that he was also a big fan of Florida growing up, but the Cats and the Gators were definitely his top-two childhood favorites.
“I just love (Kentucky), I don’t really know why,” he said. “They were just my dream school, them and Florida. I just loved watching those two schools play and seeing the success they had.”
So what was it about Kentucky that made them so desirable growing up? Why did he dream of suiting up in blue and white as a kid?
“From a player standpoint, I think it’s John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis,” Johnson said. “Just seeing how successful they are in the NBA, I think that’s a huge factor for recruits. … Calipari’s player development, it’s like no other. Seeing how he’s turned players into future Hall of Famers, it’s crazy.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-8 small forward out of Glendale, Wisconsin, has visited Lexington for Big Blue Madness each of the past two seasons.
And according to the 2020 No. 3 prospect, they were experiences “like no other.”
“It’s crazy there, it’s like no other,” he said. “The fans are crazy there, extremely loyal. They want what’s best for their players. I just wanted to witness it again, experience it again because it was so crazy. I was a little shy my first time going, so being able to socialize with the players, hang out with them, I was able to get a different vibe with it.”
In fact, Johnson says he’s going to try to make the trip for Big Blue Madness for his third consecutive year.
“Yeah, we’re gonna see,” he said with a smile. “We’re gonna see.”
In his mind, if Kentucky is going to go all-out in recruiting him, he’s going to return the favor.
“Coach Cal, him coming to my school three times this year,” Johnson said. “It just shows that I’m a priority for him and they really want me. It really means a lot.”
In terms of overall fit and player comparisons the Kentucky coaching staff has for the versatile 6-foot-8 wing, Johnson said he really doesn’t have many because they feel he is so unique.
According to the Wisconsin native, Calipari is planning on building the offense around him if he does end up in Lexington next fall.
“They don’t really compare me to anyone, because they say I’m not really like anyone (they’ve seen before),” Johnson said. “Maybe like a Penny Hardaway, the way I can play-make and stuff. They just said they’d be able to adjust the offense to me, because they adjust to their players they have every year.
Outside of Kentucky, Duke has been considered another favorite in his recruitment. In fact, Jerry Meyer of 247 Sports submitted a Crystal Ball pick in favor of the Blue Devils back in September.
“I like Duke a lot, as well,” he said. “Same as most of the schools that are recruiting me. … Duke kind of has a similar pitch to Kentucky, hearing from legendary coaches like Coach K himself, telling me straight to my face that he wants me and he wants the opportunity to coach me, it’s special.
Back in October, Johnson cut his list of schools to 15, with Arizona, DePaul, Duke, Florida, Georgetown, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, LSU, Marquette, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio State, UCLA and Wisconsin all making the cut.
Now, he’s hoping to take that down even further as soon as next week.
“I’m going to try to cut it down to eight or ten soon, within the next week or so,” he said. “I’m gonna have to sit down with my family, but it’s definitely going to be cut (soon).”
So when might a decision come for the consensus No. 3 prospect in the nation? He has been thinking about pulling the trigger at Peach Jam in mid-July, but if not, it’ll absolutely come before his senior season begins.
“I was thinking Peach Jam, but it just depends on when I get that feeling,” Johnson said. “I just want to go into my senior year knowing where I’m going to go, get the weight off my shoulders.”
The biggest factor in his recruitment will come down to comfort and fit. If he feels he can have solid chemistry with the coaching staff and some of the potential players that may join him in the class of 2020, he’ll know that’s where he needs to be.
“Strong coaching staff, the trust they have in me,” he said. “I just want to feel like I’m at home. I want to have a strong relationship with the players, just want to feel comfortable.”
Check out his ridiculous junior-year highlight tape below: