BROOKLYN, N.Y. – In what has been dubbed “graduation night” by head coach John Calipari, three more Kentucky men’s basketball players had their names called and walked across the Barclays Center stage in the annual ceremony most fans know as the NBA Draft. PJ Washington (No. 12, Charlotte Hornets), Tyler Herro (No. 13, Miami Heat) and Keldon Johnson (No. 29, San Antonio Spurs) were the three players selected during the 2019 NBA Draft on Thursday.
In 10 seasons with Calipari at the helm, Kentucky has churned out three No. 1 selections, 29 first-rounders, 21 lottery picks and 38 total players in the NBA Draft. The 38 draft picks are 14 more than the next closest school (Duke). With another surge of first-round picks, Kentucky has more first-round selections (39) than any other school in the NBA lottery era (since 1985).
Graduate transfer Reid Travis, UK’s fourth draft-eligible player, went undrafted. He is likely to have an opportunity to sign a free-agent deal.
“I’m so proud of all of our guys,” Calipari said. “Graduation night is always special for our program because the lives of several families just changed. To see the dreams of not only our kids but their families come true is truly a special moment for all of us.
“I’m really happy for PJ and Tyler. There were teams that were hoping that they would go past 12 and 13 that really wanted them. They were so excited to go back-to-back. I heard PJ got up from an interview to applaud Tyler. I’m happy where they are and the kind of teams and coaches they will play for.
“It’s amazing how this draft works. If you don’t work out for three or four teams and you end up falling to those teams in a row, you end up unfortunately sliding by them. I’ve seen it happen with other players but never with one of ours. But here’s the thing with Keldon: He gets to play for a Hall of Fame coach in Gregg Popovich in one of the best organizations that develops young people. I’ve been wrong before – I think it was 1978 – but I believe Keldon will over deliver more than any other player in the draft at his position. The Spurs got a gem, but Keldon drawing them is like hitting the lottery.
“I’m disappointed for Reid but I know he’s going to end up in a good spot. I was on the phone during the draft and calling and texting different teams to gauge interest because in my mind he can help any team in the NBA, especially young teams. With his talent and professionalism and the fact that he’s become the best version of himself as a player, I just want him to get an opportunity because I would fully expect him to take advantage of it.”
The Wildcats have had more top-10 picks, more lottery selections and more first-round picks in the Calipari era than any other team in the country. For the fifth time in 10 seasons under Calipari, UK has churned out at least three first-round selections. The Wildcats had five in the opening round in 2010 (John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton), four in 2012 (Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague) and in 2015 (Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker) and three in 2017 (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo) and in 2019 (Washington, Herro, Johnson).
“A lot of emotions right now. Just excited,” Washington said. “Can’t wait to get to Charlotte, show what I can do. I’m a very versatile player. Great locker-room guy. Just willing to give anything for my teammates.
“It helped a lot (returning to Kentucky). Without it, I don’t think I would have been a first round pick so I definitely credit Coach Cal and the rest of the staff for having my back and helping me get here.”
Kentucky has had 129 players drafted 131 times in its illustrious history with 53 players selected in the opening round.
“It’s just a dream come true,” Herro said. “I can’t believe I’m standing here with a Miami Heat hat on walking across the stage, so I mean it’s a true blessing. I mean it’s just a dream come true. Not too many kids make it from where I’m from. I’m from a small town – shout out to Whitlow – so I’m just happy I’m here.
“He’s (GM Pat Riley) a former Kentucky guy. Obviously, he has a great tradition in Miami. What they’ve done, they’ve won a lot of games and a lot of series and championships … I’ll take every day one step at a time and just learn something new every day.”
It is the 10th consecutive NBA Draft that Kentucky was represented by multiple players in the first round of the draft. UK is the only program since the draft went to two rounds in 1989 to have multiple players selected in the first round in 10 straight years. Calipari is the only coach to have multiple players selected in 12 consecutive NBA Drafts, dating back to his time at Memphis. UK has had multiple lottery selections in seven of 10 drafts under Calipari and has featured a player in the lottery in all 10 drafts under Calipari, which no other school can claim.
“I’m just going to keep working because this is only the beginning,” Johnson said. “I feel like my parents have made a lot of sacrifices for me, for my family to be in the situation we are in today and I’m not going to be able to thank my parents enough. I’m just blessed and blessed to be a part of the NBA.”
The Wildcats’ three total picks tied Duke, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia for the most selections in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Washington became UK’s first selection in the opening round when he was taken by the Charlotte Hornets at No. 12 overall. He is the seventh-ever selection by the Hornets in the history of the program. Two former Cats currently also call Charlotte home in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2012) and Malik Monk (2017).
Washington concluded his career with 932 points, 475 rebounds 120 assists and 74 blocks, but his legacy will stretch far beyond his numbers or accolades. He racked up numerous All-American honors, including NCAA Consensus All-America Third Team selection, as he put the NBA on hold for a season to become a more complete player.
Washington evolved into one of the nation’s most dominant players in his sophomore campaign. He produced career highs in virtually every statistical category in 2018-19, including leading the Wildcats in scoring (15.2 points per game), rebounding (7.5 rpg) and double-doubles (nine).
He was an absolute force in the second half of the season as he scored in double figures in 19 of his final 20 games and 25 overall. He suffered a sprained left foot in the second half of the SEC Tournament semifinals against Tennessee on March 16 and did not play in UK’s opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but he returned to lead the Wildcats to their seventh Elite Eight appearance in 10 seasons under Calipari the following week.
Washington played 26 minutes and scored 16 points against Houston in the Sweet 16. He then gutted out 37 minutes and charted his ninth double-double of the season in an overtime loss to Auburn in the Elite Eight. Washington had 28 points, one shy of his career high, 13 boards, three assists, two blocks and two steals. He was named to the Midwest Regional All-Tournament Team for his efforts.
During his final 20-game stretch, he shot 53.1 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent from 3-point range. That span also included three straight double-doubles vs. then-No. 9/10 Kansas, at Vanderbilt and at Florida.
For the season, Washington shot 52.2 percent from the floor and 42.3 percent from 3-point range. A year after hitting just five 3s in 37 games at a 23.8-percent rate, he drained 33 this season.
Perhaps the truest indicator of Washington’s worth this season was his impressive play vs. Kentucky’s best competition. In the 11 games he played vs. AP Top 25 teams, Washington averaged a team-high 17.2 points and added 6.8 rebounds while shooting 54.8 percent.
Washington was well-recognized for his accomplishments. He was tabbed a third-team All-America selection by the four NCAA-recognized All-America teams (Sporting News, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, National Association of Basketball Coaches and the AP), in addition to All-America honors from USA Today (Second Team), Sports Illustrated (Third Team) and the Basketball Times (Third Team).
He was also tabbed an All-SEC First Team pick, was one of five finalists for the Karl Malone Award, presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to the top power forward in college basketball, appeared on the John R. Wooden Award national ballot, and was a Citizen Naismith Trophy semifinalist.
Herro was UK’s second player off the board when he was selected No. 13 overall by the Miami Heat. He’s the second different player in program history to be selected by the Heat and will join former Cat Bam Adebyo (2017) in Miami.
Herro was one of the key pieces behind Kentucky’s 30-7 season that included seven victories vs. Associated Press Top 25 opponents and culminated in a berth in the Elite Eight.
The 6-foot-5 guard was not only UK’s second-leading scorer (14.0 points per game) and leading 3-pointer shooter (60 3-point field goals), he was one of UK’s most important pieces to its success. The Wildcats were 19-0 this season when Herro scored 15 or more points and 11-7 when he didn’t. In Kentucky’s 30 wins, he averaged a team-high 14.9 points, 49.5-percent shooting and 39.7 percent from 3-point range.
Herro proved to be much more than just a shooter, as many labeled him to be when he got to Kentucky. He bucked those notions by becoming a lethal scorer from anywhere on the floor, a much-improved defender (40 steals and a lockdown defensive performance against the NCAA’s all-time 3-pointer leader, Wofford’s Fletcher Magee), an underrated rebounder (4.5 boards per game), and one of the nation’s best at the free-throw line (93.5 percent). The Milwaukee product shot 46.2 percent from the floor and 35.5 percent from 3-point range.
He made 70 of his last 72 foul shots to close the season and enjoyed one of the best seasons in the history of the collegiate game from the free-throw line. With a 93.5-percent rate and a minimum of 50 attempts, he not only set a new single-season school record for free-throw percentage but also for the Southeastern Conference (with players between 50 and 100 attempts).
Herro scored in double figures in a team-high 29 games and 20 or more points six times, including a career-high 29 points in a comeback vs Arkansas and 24 points at Louisville that earned him U.S. Basketball Writers Association Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Week honors.
On the road, he was at his best. The freshman guard averaged 15.5 points on 50.5 percent from the field with 18 3-pointers in Kentucky’s 10 true road games this season. Herro scored at least 12 points in nine of the 10 away games and was one of four players nationally and the only freshman in the country to average at least 15.0 points on the road while shooting at least 50 percent from the field, at least 35 percent from 3-point range and at least 90 percent from the free-throw line.
Herro made the NCAA Midwest Regional All-Tournament Team after hitting a game-winning 3-pointer with 25 seconds to play to down Houston in the Sweet 16. He then sank two free throws to make it a two-possession game with 13 ticks to play.
The AP named Herro its SEC Newcomer of the Year while the league’s coaches tabbed Herro to its All-SEC Freshman Team and All-SEC Second Team.
Johnson became UK’s third opening-round selection when he was picked by the San Antonio Spurs with the No. 29 overall selection. He’s the first-ever player selected by the organization.
One of Kentucky’s most productive and efficient players this season, Johnson started in 36 of 37 games. He averaged 13.5 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per outing. Both of those marks ranked third best on the team. He shot 46.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from long range, while draining 45 3-pointers on the year.
Johnson seemed to be at his best when the lights were the brightest.
He averaged 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 48.9 percent in UK’s 12 matchups with Associated Press Top 25 foes. That included a 19-point outing in the win over top-ranked Tennessee on Feb. 16. He snared a career-high 17 rebounds in a home win over Auburn, Kentucky’s first game without injured Reid Travis, who suffered a sprained knee. The 17 boards were the most by a Wildcat in SEC games under Calipari.
Another big moment for the South Hill, Virginia, native came on the road at Ole Miss. With Travis out for the fourth straight game and Washington limited in the first half due to foul trouble, Johnson carried the Cats. He had 14 first-half points and five boards as UK kept the game within reach with Washington on the bench for 13 minutes in the opening half.
In his NCAA Tournament debut, he led the Wildcats with 25 points and sunk three 3-pointers. UK was without an injured Washington in this one and Johnson rose to the occasion once again. He also contributed six rebounds.
Johnson finished the season ranking second on the team in made 3-pointers and Kentucky was 6-0 when he drained at least three attempts from 3-point range. He had four double-doubles, including a 14-point, 10-rebound effort in the season finale. Johnson scored in double figures in 26 games, including totaling 20 or more seven times.
The league’s head coaches named Johnson its SEC Freshman of the Year and he was also tabbed to the All-SEC Freshman Team and All-SEC Second Team. He also won SEC Freshman of the Week honors three times this season. The Basketball Times named him to its national All-Freshman First Team.
Of the 27 players at UK in the Calipari era who have declared for the NBA Draft after their freshman seasons, 25 have been first-round draft picks. All prior 25 players have played a game in the NBA.
- Kentucky has had 129 guys drafted 131 times (Johnny Cox ’58 and Roger Newman ’60 both drafted in Jr. eligible draft, but returned for senior year and were drafted again)
- UK has had 53 players selected in the opening round (29 have come in the last 10 years) of the draft
- Kentucky has had 38 players selected in the draft over the last 10 years, 14 more than the next closest school (Duke)
- UK has had 13 players selected in the top 10, 21 in the top 15 and 29 in the first round of the draft in the last 10 years
- Calipari has had two or more players selected in 12 consecutive NBA drafts dating back to 2008 with Memphis
- UK has had multiple first-round picks in every year of the Coach Cal era (since 2010)
- In 27 seasons as a head coach, Calipari has coached 49 NBA Draft picks, including 35 first-round selections with 17 of those going in the top 10. He has had 38 selected in the last 10 years as UK’s head coach, including 29 coming in the opening round
- Since the draft moved to two rounds in 1989, the Wildcats lead all schools with 40 first-round picks. Twenty-nine of those selections have come in the last 10 years under Calipari
- Of the 58 players who have finished their college careers at UK under Calipari, 38 have been selected in the NBA Draft, a 65.5-percent success rate. Another five of those made the NBA, and the majority of the rest were walk-ons
- Of the 27 players at Kentucky who have declared for the NBA Draft after their freshman seasons, 25 have been first-round picks. All have played a game in the NBA. Calipari is 29 for 31 in that regard when including his players from Memphis
- It’s the fifth time under Calipari that the Cats have churned out at least three first-round picks (2010, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2019)