LEXINGTON – John Calipari has added another key piece to his 2019-20 Kentucky basketball roster.
On Friday, four-star wing Johnny Juzang committed to Kentucky just less than two weeks after announcing he was moving from the 2020 to 2019 class by graduating from Harvard Westlake High School in California this summer. The 247Sports Composite, which averages the ratings of the three major recruiting services, ranks Juzang as the No. 32 prospect in the class of 2019 and No. 9 small forward.
“Johnny can really score the basketball,” Calipari said in the news release announcing Juzang’s signing. “You’re talking about a kid who has a college-ready body, which is why I was in full support of him reclassifying. When he told us he was doing it, I said let’s do this. He can really shoot the basketball and has a great skill set, but what I love about him is his will to win, his fight and competitiveness. He likes to play physical and can shoot over the top of defenders, plus he’s a very good rebounder for his age. He’s a smart player who is really going to make us a different team next year.”
Here’s what the commitment means for Kentucky.
Some needed 3-point shooting help
The transfer of sophomore reserve guard Jemarl Baker added to what seems like an annual concern about whether Kentucky will boast enough 3-point shooting next season. It was likely no coincidence the Calipari and assistant coach Joel Justus first visited Juzang two days after Baker’s transfer since last summer on the Adidas AAU circuit he shot 41.8 percent (33 for 79) from 3-point range.
Like Baker would have if he had returned to Kentucky, Juzang is expected to come off the bench next season, but his 6-foot-6 frame and shooting ability gives the Wildcats a four-guard rotation again with Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey. He could also play alongside Hagans and Maxey at times if Calipari wants to maximize the shooting on the court by playing forwards Kahlil Whitney or Keion Brooks at the four.
Don’t sell him short
Yes, Juzang lacks the five-star rating of UK signees Maxey, Whitney and Brooks, but his late move to the 2019 class also means he flew under the radar compared to many of his classmates. There’s plenty of recent history that suggests his spot in the national rankings will be no deterrent to a major role as a freshman either.
A year ago, Tyler Herro was ranked 37th by the 247Sports Composite. In the 2017 class, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was ranked 31st. Both players ended up as one-and-done stars for Kentucky. At this time in their recruiting cycles few were projecting Herro or Gilgeous-Alexander to start for UK as freshmen either.
“Just his work ethic alone leaves me feeling very comfortable about where he’s at,” Harvard Westlake coach David Rebibo recently told the Courier Journal. “Obviously, he’s going to have to learn a new style of play. He’s going to have to adjust to playing against some really high-level guys who are not his age anymore and two, three years older than him potentially depending on where he goes obviously. I think with time he’ll figure it out. He’s going to find a way. He’s that kind of kid.”
What’s next in 2019 Kentucky basketball recruiting?
Juzang’s commitment does not close the book on Kentucky’s recruitment of five-star combo guard RJ Hampton, who also recently moved from the 2020 to 2019 class, but it does seemingly make it less likely Hampton ultimately picks UK.
Hampton and his father have been clear they are waiting to see how the four finalists’ backcourts shake out, and while they insist competition at UK will not scare Hampton away, the preferred option is for him to play with the ball in his hands as much as possible. There is a clearer path to that role for Hampton at finalists Kansas, Memphis and Texas Tech than at Kentucky.
“Competition wise it’s not a concern, but when you’ve got five guards for 40 minutes that is a concern,” Hampton’s father, Rod Hampton, recently told the Courier Journal. “Kentucky really preaches the best guy is going to play. When you’ve got five guys all of them are the best guy, so how do you decipher that? You go out and practice and you fight it out. That could be a blessing and a curse, but Cal finds a way to do it every year so that’s not something we shy away from.”
Even if Juzang is the last addition to Kentucky’s backcourt next season, there’s still room for further additions in the frontcourt. UK appears to be surging in the recruitment of five-star forward Jaden McDaniels, a 6-foot-9 stretch four and the other top-10 player in the class along with Hampton who has yet to pick a college.
247Sports director of basketball scouting Jerry Meyer and director of basketball recruiting Evan Daniels have both logged predictions for UK to land McDaniels in the 247Sports Crystal Ball. Daniels has been correct on 96 of 101 2019 predictions in the Crystal Ball.
Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear remains a target for Kentucky as well. Blackshear, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season, is a traditional post player, so theoretically there is room for both he and McDaniels on the roster.
However, if EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards both return to UK after testing the NBA draft waters it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where there are enough minutes to go around for all those big men, especially if Whitney and Brooks spend time at the four. Blackshear is also testing the draft waters, so he will likely know whether Montgomery and/or Richards will be back before he makes his decision.