basketball Edit

As The Roster Turns

Another day brings more changes to the Kentucky basketball roster as Keldon Johnson announces he will keep his name in the NBA Draft, and Jemarl Baker places his name in the NCAA's transfer portal.

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Kentucky head coach John Calipari worked with freshman forward Keldon Johnson during the Florida game at Rupp Arena. (Jeff Drummond/Cats Illustrated)

Another day has brought more changes to Kentucky's basketball roster.

Freshman wing Keldon Johnson announced Wednesday that he will be keeping his name in the 2019 NBA Draft, and redshirt freshman guard Jemarl Baker placed his name in the NCAA's transfer portal.

They will join PJ Washington and Tyler Herro as players who will be departing the UK program early this spring. Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley have announced that they will be returning to the Wildcats.

“Keldon has a game that will translate well to the next level,” UK head coach John Calipari said in a statement released by UK. “Of all the players in this draft, he could have one of the best transitions physically and athletically. He has all the tools you look for in a player in that league, and what makes him special is his joy for the game and his passion to get better.

"He improved in all phases of his game this year and will continue to grow in the NBA. I’ll miss seeing that smile he brought to the gym every day but I’m happy for Keldon as he pursues his dream.”

Johnson averaged 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season. The 6-foot-6 wing from South Hill, Va., is currently projected as a mid- to late first-round pick.

Baker, meanwhile, will be seeking a new college home.

The Menifee, Calif., native spent his first year in Lexington recovering from a high school knee injury before playing a reserve role this season for the Cats. He was rumored to be dealing with homesickness and may seek to play closer to the West Coast.

“I want to thank the Big Blue Nation for supporting me during my two years at Kentucky,” Baker said in a statement released by UK. “You are truly the best fans in the country and I’ve enjoyed my time here wearing the Blue and White.

“However, after talking with Coach Cal, the staff and my family, I feel it’s in my best interest to continue my academic and basketball career elsewhere. I’ve made life-long relationships with my brothers and the staff at Kentucky and have improved so much as a player. I’m thankful for the opportunities it’s given me to be a part of this historic program.”

Baker appeared in 28 games during his redshirt freshman season, scoring 64 points. One of his best games came in the NCAA Tournament against Wofford, scoring a career-high eight points.

“We haven’t had many players leave us but in all cases we stay in touch and continue to try to help,” Calipari said. “In Jemarl’s case, his injury in his first year and even the early part of this year set him back a little bit, but I still believe he’s an impact player who can score and defend. He’s a better defender than people give him credit for, and we knew we could play him this season in any situation because we knew he was always going to defend.

"I appreciate everything he did for this program. Like any kid that leaves us, I’ll be watching his career from afar. We’ll always be here for him.”

The departures from the backcourt may lead to the Cats adding another guard in this year's recruiting class. Five-star Texas guard Tyrese Maxey is currently the only incoming backcourt player for UK.