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Kentucky Basketball Player Preview: Keldon Johnson should join list of elite Calipari guards

There’s always one guard in a John Calipari-recruited class that has NBA hype written all over him before he even sets foot in Lexington. This year, it’s Keldon Johnson.

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Keldon Johnson Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

Who are we talking about?

Keldon Johnson, freshman wing

What did he do last season?

Death, taxes, John Calipari recruiting elite-level wings to play for at least one season in Lexington during the winter months.

Keldon Johnson is arguably the most exciting prospect in this year’s class for the ‘Cats, which also featured E.J. Montgomery (No. 9 on 247 Sports’ 2018 recruit big board) and Ashton Hagans (No. 12 on the 247 board). Johnson came in right behind Hagans at No. 13, giving Kentucky three players inside of the top 15 on their board. The only other school to do that? None other than Duke (4), Kentucky’s opponent on Nov. 6 in Indianapolis for the Champions Classic.

Here’s what’s Evan Daniels said to the Kentucky Herald-Leader’s Ben Roberts about Johnson shortly after Johnson committed to the Wildcats:

“He’s a high-level scorer. He’s a high-level competitor,” Daniels said. “He’s aggressive. He attacks. He plays hard with very good energy. He competes on the defensive end, and he’s a really good athlete.

“He’s going to be a terrific college player. I’d like to see him improve on his long-distance shooting, but he’s still capable of making shots. I love watching him play just because of how hard he plays.”

Johnson played at the prestigious Oak Hill Academy and something else that helps add to the excitement of his arrival: his size.

During Kentucky’s “Pro Day”, Johnson measured in at 6-foot-5 without shoes, 211 pounds and an 8-foot-7.25” reach. His length isn’t entering Shai Gilgeous Alexander-territory with a 7-foot wingspan, but he’s built like an NBA wing already.

Johnson during the Bahamas trip:

Four games (all starts), 13.3 points (53 total points, third on the team), 4.8 rebounds per game, 21-of-40 from the field overall (52.5 percent), 19 total rebounds and shot 7-of-11 from the line.

How Johnson can rise in lottery projections during what would be safe to assume his lone year at Kentucky

As of now, Bleacher Report’s Johnathan Wasserman has Johnson going No. 10 in the first edition of his yearly mock draft. Daniels and the guys at 247 Sports have him going No. 14, slightly behind Montgomery and Hagans yet again. ESPN’s latest mock through the old DraftExpress crew has Johnson at No. 8 in their mock.

The common consensus with Johnson is this: he’s got a good frame for his age, he’s an aggressive scorer on the offensive end with his attacking and finishing through contact, his shooting could use some more consistency from long range and his ball-handling could be improved.

Plus, like most of the guys on the Kentucky roster, Johnson’s got that dog in him. Personally, this was how I was introduced to Keldon Johnson and I immediately said, “I love this kid so much already.”

The good thing for Kentucky fans is that this is how intense Johnson is all the time. PJ Washington spoke with The Athletic’s Kyle Tucker recently about Johnson and described him as “literally crazy.” E.J. Montgomery described Johnson as having that “dog-eat-dog mentality.”

Sounds about right to me.

So, how can Johnson lock himself into next year’s lottery, assuming he’s healthy and the ‘Cats complete a stellar season this year that could result in a ninth title banner?

We’ve discussed his size and his intensity, but what about his game?

Shooting is going to be an important aspect for Johnson’s own stock. Kentucky has much more long-range shooting this season as a team (sup, Tyler Herro?) than last year’s side and Johnson can be a key contributor with that. Sure, he’s excellent off the bounce heading to the basket, but his spot-up game has looked strong so far from deep.

Quade Green gets middle penetration off a Nick Richards screen. Tyler Herro collapses on the Richards roll, giving Green enough space to kick out to Johnson, who cans a catch-and-shoot 3.

Getting open looks will be aplenty with Kentucky’s size and ball movement that they’ve shown in the early portion of the preseason. Teams always collapse hard on Kentucky’s offense, which is going to be difficult with Johnson and others hitting perimeter jumpers at a more consistent clip this year.

Teams aren’t going to be able to clog the paint against Kentucky this season, especially if Johnson is consistently hitting open 3s.

In the end, Johnson’s highlight reels are going to be filled with plays like this one. He’s an NBA player based off his movement when heading downhill towards the basket.

Holy eurostep, Keldon.

There’s going to be plenty of discussing what Johnson does right and wrong over the next few months, but one thing’s for sure: he’s going to be a lot of fun.