BY LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky freshmen Keldon Johnson, E.J. Montgomery, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans are all expected to play key roles for coach John Calipari next season and UK’s four returning players know how talented they are.
“I’ve known some of them since AAU. I’ve known (Quickley), I’ve played with him. He’s really good,” Kentucky sophomore P.J. Washington said. “All the guys are really good.
“They play a lot of basketball. They get in here, they focus on their game, they work on their stuff. So, if they keep that same mentality they’ll be all right this season. I feel like they’ve just got to be mentally tough.”
Sophomore guard Quade Green likes that all the newcomers are shooters and have a fearless attitude.
“They’re not scared of nothing. When we play five-on-five they go against us. They don’t act like they’re scared of nothing, so that’s what I like about them,” Green said. “All of them stand out, all of them are good at what they do.”
Jemarl Baker redshirted last season so this year will be his first time to get on the court as well.
“All of them can play whether it’s Keldon getting to the rim and finishing, Tyler scoring, Quick scoring, EJ just playing basketball – he’s a really good player. Everybody just is doing really well,” Baker said.
Sophomore center Nick Richards says they all have “little different traits” that he likes and all are “pretty competitive dudes” daily.
“We got at each other every day in pickup. That’s the trait that all of them have and that’s going to make us better,” Richards said.
Washington seems particularly enamored with what Montgomery, a 6-9 interior player, can add to the team this season.
“He is very versatile. He can do a lot of things on the court. He can dribble, he can shoot, he can pass. Just having that with a big guy down there really helps us. He can pick-and-pop. If Quade comes off a screen and he picks-and-pops and shoots a 3, I feel like that’s going to be helping us a lot,” Washington said. “A lot of guys can’t really do that in this conference, so just having a guy like that is really going to be helpful.”
One name to remember for future Kentucky basketball recruiting is 6-8 Jaemyn Brakefield of Huntington (W.Va.) Prep. He has 15 scholarship offers, including Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina and Mississippi.
He’s a consensus top 20 player in the 2020 recruiting class, but does not have a scholarship offer from Kentucky yet. However, Rivals.com recruiting writer Dan McDonald reported that Kentucky had an assistant coach watch him during an event in Atlanta this spring. The five-star forward has also been at UK several times for unofficial visits.
Brakefield told McDonald that Kentucky tells him to “keep working and keep getting better.” He also told McDonald that it was “pretty nice” at UK.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas expects high school players to be able to go directly to the NBA if they are good enough sometime in the next few years.
Bilas just hopes everyone remembers why the one-and-done rule came into existence.
“The one-and-done rule came in for a reason, and the reason was the NBA was tired of having high school players and they were tired of having their scouts and NBA personnel sitting in high school gyms. And college coaches were thrilled with the one-and-done rule when it first came in because they were having to recruit players that ultimately, whether they projected them or not, went pro out of high school,” Bilas said. “So they still had to recruit guys in a belt-and-suspenders approach.
“Then you had coaches that were recruiting guys they knew were going to go pro just so they could have them in their recruiting class and raise their recruiting profile and raise their recruiting rankings so as to help sell their program.
“So it was a mess. And I wouldn’t argue with anybody that says there are messy parts to it now. But my stance has always been for any college team, if you don’t want a one-and-done player, it’s pretty easy; you don’t have to recruit them. Nobody is making you do it.”
Bilas said doing away with the one-and-done won’t fix problems that college basketball might have.
“We blamed all our problems in college basketball on the one-and-done rule, and the one-and-done rule is not responsible for all our problems,” Bilas said. “We had those problems before one-and-done, and we’re going to have them after, and we’ll conveniently blame something else when we have the same problems after the one-and-done rule is gone.”