In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. Just look at the 2018 draft, where it took 10 picks before Mikal Bridges became the first non-freshman (or international) to be selected. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond.
With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. We move to the No. 12 overall recruit, Kentucky's Keldon Johnson. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What he means for the Wildcats' recruiting class
The consensus five-star from Virginia is the third of Kentucky’s four top-25 recruits and the only wing in Calipari’s class. A McDonald’s All-American, Johnson is a physical addition to Kentucky’s roster at the three spot and has undeniable NBA potential. He joins point guard Ashton Hagans (No. 14), forward E.J. Montgomery (No. 10), guard Immanuel Quickley (No. 23) and four-star shooting guard Tyler Herro (No. 35) in Lexington. If he wanted, Calipari could throw his entire No. 2–ranked freshman class onto the floor at the same time and be comfortable with the talent he has at every position. Johnson adds skill, size, and guaranteed buckets for Kentucky this season.
How he fits
Johnson’s senior year highlight reel is basically two minutes of monster dunks and insane alley-oops that showcase his strength in transition and under the basket. Johnson led Oak Hill Academy to a 42–1 season that ended in the semifinals of GEICO Nationals, averaging 22.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game as a senior. He can defend as well as he can move, showing aggressiveness on both sides of the ball.
With forward Kevin Knox off to the NBA, Calipari needs someone who can finish at the rim to replace Knox’s 15.6 points (a team-high) and 5.4 rebounds per game. Knox was a little bigger than Johnson, who is listed at 6'6" and 211 pounds, but with some work on his shot, the freshman should still be able to help Calipari account for those lost points even when competing against an experienced frontcourt. Kevin Durant summed it up well: “If you need a scorer, man, this guy is who you need.”
Johnson will still likely start at the three despite his inexperience. He’s a prototypical wing for Calipari: capable of scoring through contact while also acting as a physical defender on the perimeter for the Wildcats. He’s not afraid to assert himself but still shows a level of poise in his play that will benefit the young Kentucky team. Pair Johnson with returning sophomore forward P.J. Washington, who has shown exceptional versatility and energy during the team’s exhibition tour this summer, along with graduate transfer Reid Travis and fellow incoming freshman EJ Montgomery, and Kentucky has some serious talent around the basket.
Importance to team success/team outlook
While Johnson might not be the most talented shooter on the team, his defensive contributions and his ability to finish at the rim will bring in major points for Kentucky all across the board. He’ll help the Wildcats’ talented guards finish in the paint and in transition, adding another offensive threat to Calipari’s arsenal. With Johnson already working well on the wing during Kentucky’s summer showcase in the Bahamas, it looks like this young team will have no trouble playing as a unit after the 2017–18 team struggled with its consistency. With Johnson on the wing and the rest of the Wildcats’ heralded freshmen lined up for significant time, there’s tons of talent at Calipari’s disposal.