Johnson to Declare for 2019 NBA Draft: Eligible to Return to UK
Kentucky men’s basketball freshman guard Keldon Johnson will submit his name for the 2019 NBA Draft, he announced on Wednesday. Under new NCAA rules, Johnson can sign with an NCAA-certified agent, receive feedback and still have the ability to return to school if he chooses.
Johnson will have until May 29 (10 days after the NBA Draft Combine) to make a final decision as to whether he wishes to remain in the draft or return for a sophomore season at Kentucky.
“First of all, I want to thank God because none of this would be possible without Him,” Johnson said. “Thank you to my family for always having my back and getting me to this point. Thank you to Coach Cal for pushing me on and off the court to be the best player I can be. He never let me take a day off. I want to thank Coach KP (Kenny Payne) for pushing me every day and for being a father figure away from home. Thank you to Coach (Tony) Barbee for being there through tough times. I also want to thank Coach Joel (Justus) and Coach (John) Robic for always providing a helping hand when I needed and for always supporting me.
“I’ve spent a lot of time over the last week thinking about what’s best for me and my future. I’ve sat down with my family and Coach Cal and determined that testing the waters and getting information back from the NBA is the best thing for me at this time. My hope is to be a lottery pick. If I am, I plan on pursuing my dreams and staying in the draft, but I want to go through the process first and get the correct information.
“This season was everything I dreamed of and more when I decided to come to Kentucky. I wish we could have played a few more games, but it doesn’t take away from the special memories we made. Thank you to the Big Blue Nation for your support and love through this important time in my life.”
Johnson joins sophomore PJ Washington in declaring for the 2019 NBA Draft, which will be held June 20 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Washington announced he will be entering the draft and plans to remain in the draft, ending his two-year stint with the Wildcats.
Johnson has not yet determined his final status. As in years past, players can submit paperwork to receive evaluations from the NBA and participate – if invited – in the NBA Draft Combine. At this time, Johnson plans to utilize the current rules in place.
“Keldon is a gym rat who has improved in all areas this season,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “Keldon has the athleticism, physique and skill set to compete at a high level in that league. His ability to make people around him better and his willingness to share and be a great teammate is what will set him apart when he goes through workouts. I fully support his decision to go through this process and get all the information. Whatever he decides, he will have my full support.”
One of Kentucky’s most productive and efficient players this season, Johnson started in 36 of 37 games. He averaged 13.5 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per outing. Both of those marks ranked third best on the team. He shot 46.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from long range, while draining 45 3-pointers on the year.
Johnson seemed to be at his best when the lights were the brightest.
He averaged 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 48.9 percent in UK’s 12 matchups with Associated Press Top 25 foes. That included a 19-point outing in the win over top-ranked Tennessee on Feb. 16. He snared a career-high 17 rebounds in a home win over Auburn, Kentucky’s first game without injured Reid Travis, who suffered a sprained knee. The 17 boards were the most by a Wildcat in Southeastern Conference games under Calipari.
Another big moment for the South Hill, Virginia, native came on the road at Ole Miss. With Travis out for the fourth straight game and Washington limited in the first half due to foul trouble, Johnson carried the Cats. He had 14 first-half points and five boards as UK kept the game within reach with Washington on the bench for 13 minutes in the opening half.
In his NCAA Tournament debut, he led the Wildcats with 25 points and sunk three 3-pointers. UK was without an injured Washington in this one and Johnson rose to the occasion once again. He also contributed six rebounds.
Johnson finished the season ranking second on the team in made 3-pointers and Kentucky was 6-0 when he drained at least three attempts from 3-point range. He had four double-doubles, including a 14-point, 10-rebound effort in the season finale. Johnson scored in double figures in 26 games, including totaling 20 or more seven times.
The league’s head coaches named Johnson its SEC Freshman of the Year and he was also tabbed to the All-SEC Freshman Team and All-SEC Second Team. He also won SEC Freshman of the Week honors three times this season. The Basketball Times named him to its national All-Freshman First Team.
Since Calipari joined the Wildcat program for the 2009-10 season, UK has produced 35 NBA Draft picks over nine seasons, nearly twice as many as the next-closest school (Duke). Included in the 35 are 26 first-rounders, three No. 1 overall picks and 19 lottery selections.
Of the 25 players at UK who have declared for the NBA Draft after their freshman seasons, 23 have been first-round draft picks. All 25 have played a game in the NBA.
The 2019 NBA Draft Combine will take place May 15-19 in Chicago, although it hasn’t been determined yet if Johnson will participate. The 2019 NBA Draft is June 20 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.