Kentucky men’s basketball misses out on another top player from the NCAA transfer portal

Kentucky men’s basketball continues to swing and miss when it comes to adding players from the NCAA transfer portal this offseason.

After the high-profile failure to land former Michigan star Hunter Dickinson — the consensus best player available in the transfer portal — the Wildcats have also missed out on subsequent efforts to boost their roster ahead of the 2023-24 season.

This theme surfaced again Saturday, when Keshad Johnson — a 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward who previously spent four seasons at San Diego State — announced he would be going to Arizona as a graduate transfer for his fifth and final season of college basketball.

Johnson selected Arizona from a final list of transfer destinations that also included Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Southern California.

Johnson entered the transfer portal April 14, just weeks removed from playing a crucial role in a historic season for the SDSU program.

He started all 39 games for the Aztecs last season, with per-game averages of 7.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 22.2 minutes. Johnson, who also tested the NBA Draft waters this offseason, shot 53.2% from the field, 26.2% from three-point range (on extremely low volume) and 64.8% from the foul line last season.

In particular, Johnson was of vital importance to the Aztecs during their 2023 NCAA Tournament run: Johnson had per-game averages of 7.6 points and 4.1 rebounds across six NCAA Tournament games.

He had 14 points to lead SDSU in scoring during the national title game loss to UConn.

According to college basketball statistician Evan Miyakawa’s rankings, Johnson is the 102nd-best player to have entered the transfer portal this offseason (out of more than 1,660 players).

This ranking reflects Johnson’s projected Bayesian Performance Rating (BPR) of 2.08 for next season.

The BPR is the sum of the Offensive Bayesian Performance Rating and Defensive Bayesian Performance Rating for a player, and reflects the number of points per 100 possessions better than the opponent a player’s team is expected to be if the player is on the court with nine other average players.

In an unusual move, Johnson’s departure from San Diego State in April was publicized by the SDSU program with a news release, which was described as a joint announcement by Johnson and SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher.

“We can’t thank Keshad enough for everything he has done for our program in the last four years and wish him nothing but the best as he moves into this next phase of his career,” Dutcher said in the news release. “He has grown into a leader both on and off the court and is the quintessential example of a student-athlete, excelling in the classroom as well as on the court.”

San Diego State forward Keshad Johnson (0) will transfer to Arizona for the 2023-24 season after including Kentucky as a finalist. Russell Lansford/USA Today Sports
San Diego State forward Keshad Johnson (0) will transfer to Arizona for the 2023-24 season after including Kentucky as a finalist. Russell Lansford/USA Today Sports

What does Kentucky’s 2023-24 roster look like now?

After failing to successfully court Dickinson, Johnson emerged as a top transfer portal target for head coach John Calipari and the UK program.

Johnson took a recruiting visit to Kentucky from May 10-12.

But now Johnson is off the table, and he’s far from the first transfer portal option to spurn the Wildcats this offseason.

At one point or another, these are some of the players who have been linked to Kentucky from the transfer portal over the last few weeks: Chad Baker-Mazara, Matthew Cleveland, Hunter Dickinson, Jordan Dingle, Harrison Ingram, Keshad Johnson, Tyrin Lawrence, Grant Nelson, Jamarion Sharp and Tre White.

Obviously, none of them are Wildcats.

UK’s roster construction for next season remains in significant flux with Chris Livingston, Oscar Tshiebwe and Cason Wallace all wrapping up their time at the 2023 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago in the past week.

Each player spoke extensively with the Herald-Leader in Chicago to discuss their future basketball plans.

Both Livingston and Tshiebwe have kept open the option of continuing their collegiate careers, and the deadline for players to decide whether to remain in the draft or return to school is May 31 at 11:59 p.m.

Two other Kentucky players entered their names in the draft, but didn’t receive NBA Draft Combine invitations: Jacob Toppin (who is expected to turn professional) and Antonio Reeves (who is expected to return to Kentucky).

Here’s a breakdown of the scholarship players joining and leaving the Cats, along with the question marks that still exist for next season’s team.

Incoming players: Aaron Bradshaw (freshman center), Robert Dillingham (freshman guard), Justin Edwards (freshman small forward), Reed Sheppard (freshman guard), DJ Wagner (freshman guard).

Returning players: Brennan Canada (fifth-year guard), Ugonna Onyenso (sophomore forward), Adou Thiero (sophomore guard).

Outgoing players: Daimion Collins (forward, transfer portal), CJ Fredrick (guard, transferred to Cincinnati), Jacob Toppin (forward, NBA Draft), Cason Wallace (guard, NBA Draft), Lance Ware (forward, transferred to Villanova), Sahvir Wheeler (guard, transferred to Washington).

Yet-to-be announced: Chris Livingston (forward), Antonio Reeves (guard), Oscar Tshiebwe (forward).

Kentucky is still looking for roster additions. A very big target could be available soon.

For Kentucky basketball, the pros and cons of Oscar Tshiebwe’s NBA decision

Lance Ware picks his transfer destination. He’ll be playing in the Big East.