By Nick Jones | @Kernel_Nick
Dakari Johnson, UK’s latest committment to the 2013 recruiting class, will take his official visit to UK on the weekend of Feb. 23 when the Cats host Missouri on ESPN’s College Gameday.
Johnson began this season at Montverde (Fla.) Academy as a member of the 2014 class. However, on Dec. 19 he made the decision to forego an extra year in high school and make the jump to the 2013 class.
“It was a family decision to reclassify,” Johnson said in an interview with the Kernel. “Montverde has made me a more mature person and I feel like I was just ready to take that next step in my development. I have great grades and athletically I was ready.”
With the move to the 2013 class, the 6-foot-10, 250-pound big man instantly became the No. 1 ranked senior at the center position.
But the decision to call UK his college home, according to Dakari, was more difficult than many assumed.
“It was really difficult, but the process was really draining for me,” said Johnson. “But at the end of the day I felt that UK was the best choice for me because coach Cal will develop me as a player.”
Joining the highly respected 2013 class put together by UK head coach John Calipari comes with a great deal of expectation from UK fans.
There have been mentions that this year’s recruiting class may be the greatest of all time at first glance. But Johnson, who will hold down the painted area for the 2013-14 squad, downplayed all the hype.
“It is a great recruiting class, but we haven’t done anything so we can’t really say we are the best or anything yet,” Johnson said. “But I am excited to play with those guys. They are all great players and it is going to challenge me in practice.”
In terms of practice, there is the possibility Johnson will have a couple of talented big men to go up against on a daily basis should current freshman Nerlens Noel or Willie Cauley-Stein decide to pass on the NBA draft after this season.
“That is fine with me,” Johnson said. “That is just going to make me a better player.”
Johnson has been keeping a close eye on the 2012-13 UK team.
“I actually watch them a lot,” the New York native said. “They are a real good team, but they are still young so it’s kind of a process.
They are struggling at times, but I think they are going to get it together before the end of the year because I really think they are a better team than people think they are.”
The five-star center said he has learned from the early struggles of the current Cats so next year’s team will be sure to reach their lofty goals.
“We can’t get side-tracked,” Johnson said in reference to his predecessors. “But the guys I am coming in with are all winners. We all want one thing and that is a national championship, so we just have to stay focused.”
Speaking of national championships, Johnson’s Montverde Academy team boasts a 21-2 record this season and has positioned itself to compete for a championship on the high school level.
Montverde’s most recent loss came against the nation’s No. 1 ranked team, Findlay Prep (Nev.) on Jan. 21.
“That was a good game, and they are a real good team,” Johnson said. “But it is kind of hard thinking about it now and knowing that you almost had the game and lost on a buzzer beater.”
Johnson remains hopeful that his Eagles will be awarded another shot to redeem the heartbreaking loss at the end of the season.
“We were just two great teams going at it, and hopefully we can play again at the end of the year.”
But before he turns his attention to the potential season finale, Johnson will look forward to multiple weekends spent in Kentucky over the next month.
After his official visit he will also make a trip to Kentucky on March 3, when his Montverde Academy team takes on Huntington Prep (W. Va.) and the nation’s No. 1 ranked player, Andrew Wiggins.
“Our high school team is ranked No. 2 in the country right now, so we are going to take that game hard,” Johnson said. “They are a top team, too, though. They are a great team, so we are just going to be ready for that game.”
The game will be a part of the Red State Blue State Series hosted at Freedom Hall in Louisville.
As for playing in front of the nation’s most passionate fan base for the first time in his young career, Johnson will use the experience to prepare next season.
“I heard it is crazy out there, so I can not wait to play in front of them and get used to what I am going to be doing next year with the fans,” Johnson said. “So it will be a good experience.”