Son of UK football great bags offer from Calipari

Published 5:22 pm Wednesday, May 10, 2023

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Dennis Johnson knows what big-time college recruiting is like because he was a three-sport standout at Harrodsburg High School that drew much college attention. Sports Illustrated named him the 1997 National High School football player of the year before signing with Kentucky over his other two finalists, Florida and Notre Dame.

Now his son, Jasper, a 6-4 sophomore point guard at Woodford County High School, is receiving the same attention. He already had many college scholarship offers before adding one from Kentucky on Friday.

“It was a huge day,” said Dennis Johnson. “Coach Cal told him he has a different skill set. He’s long and Cal likes that. He told him, ‘You have the potential to do this for a long time.’”

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The scholarship offer came Friday when the Johnsons made a visit to Kentucky and were in coach John Calipari’s office. Calipari and his staff watched Jasper Johnson play last season when he averaged 20 points per game and helped Woodford reach the state semifinals.

The 6-4 point guard has had a terrific start to the Nike EYBL season and is averaging 12.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game and shooting 54.1 percent overall and 40.7 percent from 3-point range in eight games.

“Cal told him that he had studied his game and really liked his floater,” Dennis Johnson, Woodford’s football coach and athletics director, said. “He told Jasper, ‘I teach my kids too much about the floater. Your floater is nice. I have seen your skill set. There are a lot of kids at EYBL but about 20 kids are different and you are one of them.”

Dennis Johnson remembered a strong sequence of plays his son had at the second EYBL stop. He saw Calipari talking on his phone at about the same time and then came the text from UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua inviting the Johnsons to go to UK for a visit.

“After that game they (UK coaches) texted me four or five times. They texted another night and then one day at school,” Dennis Johnson said. “They wanted to get us over to Cal’s office. But I really didn’t know what to expect. We’ve been to Indiana twice in a month to see the campus but didn’t get an offer, so I really didn’t know what might happen.”

Calipari told Jasper Johnson he had watched him play three times and said he saw something different each time that impressed him. He also told him he didn’t worry about recruiting rankings and offered former UK All-American Willie Cauley-Stein a scholarship after a four-point, two-rebound game because he had seen what he could do

“Cal told him he was a productive player with some God-given stuff other players don’t have,” Dennis Johnson said. “He told him he had an opportunity to make a lot of money playing basketball and was one of the best kids he was recruiting.”

Calipari talked about how the game had changed from playing two bigs together to featuring a point forward to now going with shooters who can spread the court but can also guard on defense. The Kentucky coach noted how Jasper Johnson held his own when he had to switch and guard a center in the EYBL.

“He knew he blocked a shot on one switch and one time poked the ball out,” Dennis Johnson said. “He told him he would never have to guard a big for 30 seconds, so doing it for five seconds was huge. He was paying close attention to what Jasper was doing. He even told him his demeanor reminded him of (former UK star/NBA player) De’Aaron Fox and he liked how he never changes his demeanor during a game.”

Jasper Johnson has close to 15 scholarship offers now and has not yet thought of setting a timeline for his decision process. However, Calipari made a suggestion to the Woodford sophomore.

“He (Calipari) told Jasper if he wanted to commit now, he had a scholarship, insurance and a lifetime to come back and finish his degree if he left early for the NBA,” Dennis Johnson said. “He said he would not promise this or that but told him he could make more NIL money here as a local kid than other people could.”

Jasper’s mother is a “big UK fan” and grandparents Rosetta and Alvis Johnson were also very happy/proud with the Kentucky scholarship offer.

“Jasper doesn’t usually show a lot of emotion but he said, ‘Thank you, Coach,’ probably ten times after he got the offer,” Dennis Johnson said. “Cal was very hands-on with him and the two of them really got along well together. It was a good day.”