With three first-round picks, two being lottery selections, the Kentucky basketball program had yet another impressive night at the NBA Draft.
For PJ Washington and Tyler Herro, they landed right where they were projected to as late lottery picks. For Johnson, however, he had a noticeable slip to the very end of the first round.
Originally expected to be taken anywhere from the late-lottery to No. 20 or so, it was a drop that left Kentucky head coach John Calipari wondering what happened from the time the Wildcat forward tested the waters and the night of the draft.
“I’m still trying to figure out how Keldon (Johnson) – they said he was a top-10 pick when he left here and then a month and a half later he’s picked 29th,” Coach Cal said. “Knowing the draft the way I do, I haven’t spent time really going into that knowing that there are teams that you didn’t work out for and you slip a little bit and then all of a sudden you slip by those teams, and then it’s like what’s wrong with this kid?”
If you ask Calipari, though, San Antonio’s selection proved that there is nothing wrong with the former Wildcat. If a franchise as historic and well-respected as the Spurs wants you, it means you’ll be just fine in the long run.
“Because there’s nothing wrong with them and what proved it was San Antonio took him,” he said. “San Antonio is about a culture, about good kids who will compete and fight and be coached. By them taking him, it confirms who he is. But 29, I had no idea what went on and I was on the phone the whole time.”
And according to the Kentucky head coach, he didn’t have to sell anything to Gregg Popovich and the Spurs franchise. They were interested all along.
When he saw Johnson falling a bit, Calipari said he went over to the former Wildcat and comforted him, letting him know that he had “two back stops” and wouldn’t fall out of the first round.
“I didn’t sell anything. The only thing I talked to [Keldon], when I saw what was happening and knew he didn’t work out for some teams and knew where this could go, I thought he had two back stops in two different teams,” he said. “I went over to him and his family and I said, ‘Listen to me, I’ve done this a long time. You are in the NBA, you are going to be with a team. This stuff, most of it is ego, and it’s more about being on the right team. So just relax and understand that this stuff happens.’”
With the dust now settled, Calipari said he is ecstatic with where Johnson landed and the opportunity he’ll have to work with a first-class organization.
“He ends up going to San Antonio, which is the best team,” he said. “We’re talking Hall of Fame coach (Gregg Popovich), an organization that does unbelievable work developing young players, and then those guys become – you know they took a kid from Colorado no one heard about, they took a guy, (Kawhi) Leonard, that no one really knew about, so they don’t miss very often.”