Dakari Johnson to Kentucky as Cats Move Toward Greatest Recruiting Class Ever

By ADAM ZAGORIA & SEVE COUSINS

Dakari Johnson pledged to Kentucky Saturday night as Coach John Calipari and the Wildcats took another step toward assembling arguably the greatest recruiting class in the history of college basketball.

With the addition of the 6-foot-11 center from Montverde (Fla.) Academy, Kentucky now has the Nos. 3, 5, 6, 12 and 30 players in the 2013 ESPN 100.

They remain in the mix for the No. 1, No. 4 and No. 7 players as well in Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon -- all of whom will sign in the spring.

“If they land any combo of those guys it will be without a doubt one of the greatest classes of all time,” one veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv Saturday.

As things now stand, Johnson becomes the sixth member of a class that includes point guard Andrew Harrison (No. 3), shooting guard Aaron Harrison (No. 5), shooting guard James Young (No. 6 ) and power forward Marcus Lee (No. 30), as well as power forward Derek Willis.

“Coach Cal, Coach O [Orlando Antigua] and Coach [Kenny] Payne were honest with me; they told me this is a place where I’m going to have to come in and work hard,” Johnson, who reclassified to 2013 from 2014, said on ESPNU after picking Kentucky over Georgetown and Syracuse. “I want to win a national championship in high school and in college.”

Johnson, a Brooklyn native and onetime teammate of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at St. Patrick, is the second Kevin Boyle-coached player to commit to Calipari in three years. Kidd-Gilchrist, the first, was the No. 2 player selected in last year’s NBA Draft.

The top-ranked center in the ESPN rankings, Johnson is the first true low-post presence in Calipari’s heralded 2013 class. They now effectively have at least one player at every position.

“Kentucky can expect a hard worker and a good person on and off the court,” said Johnson, whose top-ranked Montverde team crushed Duke-bound Jabari Parker and Chicago Simeon, 82-53, earlier on ESPN2.

Kentucky currently has 7-footers Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein on its roster, but Noel is projected as a top lottery pick in June’s NBA Draft. DraftExpress.com currently has him ranked No. 2 on its Mock Draft.

Some NBA scouts believe that the 7-foot-1 Cauley-Stein actually has a bigger upside going forward than Noel.

If Noel and / or Cauley-Stein opt to stay at Kentucky for the 2013-14 season, the frontcourt will be even more crowded.

Still, Johnson said he spoke with Calipari about that possibility and is OK with it.

“He’s going to get close to a double-double and he’s going to be picked in the Top 10 [of the NBA Draft] after one year because of the potential he has to be an outstanding player,” Boyle told reporters in this video from Wheeling, W.V.

Asked if Johnson was definitely a one-and-done player at Kentucky, Boyle added:

“I think there’s going to be too much pressure on him not to be.”

One thing’s for sure, NBA scouts will be spending quite a bit of time next season in Lexington with all the talent Kentucky has amassed.

“Some teams will be renting apartments next to Rupp Arena,” the NBA scout told SNY.tv.

“Kentucky has established itself as the top destination in college basketball for all NBA personnel to determine just how good the lottery is based on their talent each and every year,” a second NBA scout said.

Johnson picked Kentucky in part because it is most familiar to him.

He spent his middle schools years at the Sayre School in Lexington and still has extended family there, something that is important to Johnson’s mother, Makini Campbell.

Calipari nailed down the pledge this week by appearing at Montverde’s games Friday and Saturday at the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W.V.

Longtime Calipari confidante William Wesley, known as “Worldwide Wes,” also was on hand Thursday when Montverde beat Roselle Catholic in New Jersey.

The 6-foot-8 Wiggins also played at the event with Huntington (W.V.) Prep and is expected to pick between Kentucky, Florida State and possibly North Carolina in the spring. (Kansas, Syracuse and Ohio State are also in the mix.)

The 6-9 Randle is down to Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Kansas and N.C. State and has visits planned to N.C. State later this month and to Texas and Kansas in February.

The 6-8 Gordon is considering Washington, Arizona and Kentucky.

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