At one stage, all three freshmen were projected as first-round NBA picks in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Now, not so much.
DraftExpress.com has all three listed as first-round picks in 2015: with Johnson at No. 17, Aaron Harrison at 25 and Andrew Harrison at 29.
“They need to come back to school because their stock value in the NBA has really dropped big-time,” Dick Vitale said of the Harrisons on ESPN the other night during the Florida-Kentucky game.
If all three players do come back, Karl Towns and several of his fellow incoming recruits say it will only make Kentucky deeper and stronger in 2014-15.
“If the Harrisons come back, that’s even more fuel to the fire we have over there,” the 7-foot Towns told SNY.tv after playing brilliantly and going for 22 points and 11 rebounds in St. Joe’s 79-70 loss to Montverde Academy, ranked No. 3 nationally by USA Today, before a capacity crowd Sunday night in the Metro Classic at Kean University.
“We have such a great recruiting class. We have big men, we have shooting guards. Now if they wanna stay and join the party it’s going to be very fun, and I just see us doing great things.”
Towns is part of a four-man class that also includes point guard Tyler Ulis, shooting guard Devin Booker and power forward Trey Lyles.
Both Ulis and Booker also told SNY.tv that having the Harrisons back would make the Wildcats deeper in 2014-15.
“It makes us a better team,” Tyler Ulis, who would presumably back up Andrew Harrison at the point, told SNY.tv.
“He [would have] better teammates,” added James Ulis, Tyler’s father. “He isn’t worried about that. He has to do what he does well and it will be fine.”
For Booker, who enjoyed some of the All-Star festivities in New Orleans this weekend, he sees himself playing on the wing the way current freshman James Young has.
“I could see myself in James’ spot,” Booker told SNY.tv.
Young is one of three Kentucky players projected as first-round picks this year, with Julius Randle at No. 4 on DraftExpress.com, sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein at No. 12 and Young at No. 14.
As for Johnson, Montverde coach Kevin Boyle, who coached the 7-foot Johnson at both Montverde and St. Patrick, believes he and the 7-foot Towns could complement each other next season.
“You probably want to ask John Calipari that,” Boyle said with a smile. “I think Dakari will be a lot better next year. I think the one thing with [Towns], he could shoot the ball where if Dakari posts up and ducks in, you have to respect him and go out and get [Towns]. Whereas with Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari, you don’t have to go out and get him so it’s hard to play both of them together so that might help where they get some time together.”
Boyle, who also coached NBA players Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and NBA All-Star Game MVP Kyrie Irving at St. Pat’s, actually coached Towns as a fourth-grader in New Jersey.
“Karl has gotten a lot better,” Boyle said. “He shoots the heck out of the ball. He’s getting more comfortable with his little step-back move. He’s going to be a great, great player because of his ability to shoot the ball and score.”
As for Towns, he said the experience of playing against LSU-bound 2015 forward Ben Simmons and Ohio State-bound guard D’Angelo Russell — each of whom had 24 points in the victory — gave him the feel of “playing college basketball for a little bit, so I’m just happy that we scheduled this game.”
“It was a lot of fun,” Towns said. “I enjoyed it very much. The game was exciting.”
As for next season and what’s in store at Kentucky, he would welcome playing with Johnson and the Harrison twins but wants the Wildcats to enjoy the rest of their season first, while he pursues a New Jersey Tournament of Champions title.
“Right now we just gotta let their season finish first,” he said. “Let them do what they gotta do. Let them play to the highest of their abilities and see where it goes from there.
“But right now I see them having all the talent in the world to take the next step to the next level.”
He added: “I just wish them the best and I hope they can make that next jump for their families. Every player on Kentucky is such a great human being so I’m just praying for them to have their best games so they can take that next step.
“But if all the chips fall out where next year we have Dakari and we have the Harrison twins it’s just going to be an ever better team. We’re going to have some more leadership and we’re also going to have more experience. So it will only help, it can’t hurt us.
“I’m just waiting to see what they do. I just hope they have the greatest season they could posssibly have.”