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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Is Dakari Johnson John Calipari's Hidden Gem?

Leading up to Big Blue Madness A Sea of Blue will be previewing each scholarship player on the 2013/2014 basketballl team. In this edition incoming freshman Dakari Johnson is profiled.


With incoming freshmen scoring machines and stars such as the Harrison twins, Julius Randle and James Young, it's easy to forget Dakari Johnson. That is until you see him play, then forgetting him isn't an option. Johnson is a 6'11, 265 pound center that played a season of high school basketball with Wildcat favorite Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He wasn't on the radar of many coaches until he exploded onto the scene in 2012.

Early on, Johnson was seen as a player with a lot of size and limited ability. His skill level quickly caught up with his height and he shot up the recruiting ranks. Schools with basketball pedigrees such as Kentucky, Georgetown, Kansas and Louisville all started showing strong interest in the big man from New Jersey. But Johnson chose Kentucky in a bit of a surprise announcement, adding to a class that was starting to become a juggernaut.

Dakari is unique in the fact that he is a true back to the basket center, whereas John Calipari has used athletic big men such as Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Josh Harrellson effectively in his dribble-drive motion offense in the past. The last time Calipari had a center like Johnson, it was DeMarcus Cousins, and he flourished in Cal's offense. Although it was more of a variation of the DDMO with Big Cuz, no one can argue the results.

Johnson brings with him all of the accolades that one would look for in a Kentucky recruit: he is a high school All-American, he was a McDonald's All-American, he's won gold with Team USA, and he is a Rivals top ten player. It was thought that he would be the backup to Willie Cauley-Stein, but he has made an early impression during summer workouts and he may be more of a factor than previously thought.

Dakari Johnson might be the hidden gem in this recruiting class.


Height - 6-11

Weight - 265

Position - Center

Recruiting Break Down*- #2 Center; #9 player overall (according to, #9 RSCI overall


Johnson's size and physicality are the first things that stand out when one watches him play. He is imposing to defenders and offensive players alike. He is a shot blocker and a ball hawk under the rim. His offensive game is more polished then one might expect; he averaged 17 points a game as a high school senior. Johnson is a player that has the potential to be a game changer if he comes in as ready as he is rumored to be.


Johnson isn't the prototypical Calipari center as was previously mentioned. He doesn't get up the floor with the speed of Willie Cauley-Stein nor does he have the ball handling skills of Anthony Davis. Will he fit Cal's system of play and will the ‘Cats have to switch styles when he is in the game? There isn't much to worry about in that regard. DeMarcus Cousins was an All American and a top ten draft pick. Johnson isn't Cousins by any stretch of the imagination, but it's been proven that a center with his particular skill set can play well in the dribble-drive offense.

Coach Calipari On Johnson:

Dakari's improvement over the last year and a half has been phenomenal. His ability to be a true low-post threat adds an important piece to what our team will really need. He's patient when he gets the ball on the block and has a great understanding for how to use his size for a kid his age. Dakari is a great student and a great kid. He's won a high school championship, a world championship with Team USA, and he said he wants to win a national championship with us and an NBA championship. That statement says a lot about the type of winner he is.

2013 Expectations:

Dakari Johnson is a wildcard at the moment. When Willie Cauley-Stein decided to come back for his sophomore season, it was thought that he would be the starter and that Johnson would come off the bench to relieve him. But things aren't playing out that way. Johnson has been absolutely working WCS in pick-up games and summer workouts. John Calipari has even mentioned that Johnson is pushing his teammate/rival for the starting job. Johnson has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise for the head coach.

Whether or not he he is the starter, Johnson adds depth and height to the best back court in all of college basketball. His presence will give Cal another chance to tinker with the Twin Towers line up (to the chagrin of some fans) and his presence in the middle will give opposing offenses fits.

He didn't commit to Kentucky in order to sit on the bench and watch another guy become a star. Johnson believes he can play well at the collegiate level against the best in the country. He may very well get his chance to prove it.

2012/2013 Recruit Mix Tape:

In the Next Preview: Marcus Lee is Cal's newest Spark Plug

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