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By LARRY VAUGHT

CHICAGO — Kentucky commit Dakari Johnson compares his game to that of Philadelphia 76ers center Andrew Bynum because of his strength, rebounding and low-post scoring prowess. He averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds and 4.3 blocked shot per game for Montverde Academy in Florida this season. He’s a New York native but also lived in Lexington for a brief time in junior high before his family moved to New Jersey.

He’s playing in the McDonald’s All-American Game here Wednesday night — one of at least six future Cats in the game on ESPN — and spent time after practice Tuesday talking about UK, his play, future teammates and even ping pong.

Question: How excited are you about coming to Kentucky as part of the all-time highest ranked recruiting class?
Johnson: “It is great. I have been with my future teammates all week, and it’s real exciting. I wanted to go play with all the great players and I knew if I went to Kentucky that nothing would be handed to me. They wouldn’t just give me a starting position. I will have to work for it.”

Question: How big an advantage could it be for six of you to play together in all-star games and start adjusting to the way each other plays like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer did two years ago?
Johnson: “It could be huge. We are getting used to each other right now and it looks like we are clicking so far. It could give us an advantage.”

Question: Are the other future Wildcats — Julius Randle, Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Marcus Lee and James Young — better than you even expected?
Johnson: “I have known them for AAU events, so I know they are all great players and that will make me better as a player.”

Question: Do people normally tell you that you are bigger than they thought but that you also run the court better than they expected?
Johnson: “I hear that a lot. I am not really a highlight guy and fly through the air and dunk on people. I just play the game that I love and play it well.”

Question: What is your reaction to knowing that center Willie Cauley-Stein is coming back for a second season at UK?
Johnson: “It is great. I think he helps me as a player. We are two different players. He is more athletic than me and I am more the non-athletic guy and more skilled. But he is a real good player. I think we will complement each other well. In practice we are going to have to have battles and that will make me a better player.”

Question: What if that means more time on the bench for you?
Johnson: “It doesn’t matter to me. I am just all about winning.”

Question: When you lived in Lexington, did you dream of playing for Kentucky and did you pay much attention to UK basketball then?
Johnson: “I was too young to think about it. As I got better, I always knew Kentucky was the right fit for me. I knew Kentucky basketball was a big deal when I was young. It was like a pro team. I went to a lot of games at Kentucky. I like that atmosphere. It puts a lot of pressure on you, but that’s what I want because pressure makes me a better player.”

Question: How hard was coach Kevin Boyle on you the year you sat out as a transfer from New Jersey to Montverde Academy in Florida?
Johnson: “He was really hard at first. I was like really mad that I wouldn’t be able to play. I just worked hard and got where I am right now. I lost about 25 or 30 pounds. I worked hard every single day just for this moment to be a McDonald’s All-American. He’s one of the best high school coaches in America. What is better than to learn from him? We went down there for a visit and the school is just a great school. It is somewhere you can go and get your studies together and really prepare for college.”

Question: Do you ever talk to former UK star Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, your former teammate under Boyle in New Jersey?
Johnson: “I talk to him ever once in a while. He’s busy with the NBA, but he hits me up and texts me or calls me. He tells me when he was there (Kentucky) it was hard on him and he had a lot of pressure and I will have to work. He did try, though, to influence me a little bit to go there. He said that he always knew that is where I was going to go or I didn’t he was going to make me.”

7 Responses to Dakari Johnson on teammates, playing time, MKG and more

  • Laura says:

    Fab interview. Love this kid.

  • Larry Pup says:

    I liked his comments on WCS returning. Great athlete. Sounds like he is a team player.

  • Juan4UK says:

    This whole class seems pretty well prepared for what awaits. They seem to embrace it. Completely unfazed with this past yrs. struggles. Yet another gold star for this staff; to prepare them early and not hide from this yrs. results. Negative=Positive!

  • Anonymous says:

    He is honest about one thing…he does have very nice offensive moves-very skilled!

  • Karen Sprinkle says:

    I think getting to hang around with each other at the all-star games will be a huge help to these guys. They will start getting to know each other, and how each player plays, much like the Davis/Kidd-Gilchrist/Teague/Wiltjer class. I think in the later article about Dakari, he mentions that he will be able to come to UK on June 6 to start summer school. I think Nerlens having to finish up high school (and not being eligible for the all-star games due to his late reclassification) hurt last year’s team chemistry a little.

  • Little Baron says:

    Awesome to see such talented players already clicking and building a chemistry so essential to be a title contender. This team, with the great incoming class, plus Alex and W&W (Willie & Wiltjer) put us in position to have the 2nd best team in America on the bench, waiting to give the #1 team (our starters) a rest! :)

    The CATS are well represented tonight in the McD AA game… priceless advertising for our program… Cats & Cal now have the premier position for young atheletes to see, and the loaded class will show future prospects that UK can handle a big class of stars, and they can all still meet their dreams

  • LindaS says:

    Is there going to be anything we don’t like about any of these young men? Seems like another stellar group of student/athletes that Cal has coming in next year to blend with the ones he has now.

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