By LARRY VAUGHT
Three days before freshman Johnny Juzang announced he was putting his name into the transfer portal, Kentucky coach John Calipari talked about the way he could improve his second year at UK like P.J. Washington, Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley did the last two years.
“The anxiety a freshman has – you can talk to Immanuel or Ashton or EJ – that a sophomore does not have in this program is incredible. Knowing that each game is the other team’s Super Bowl, that every practice matters,” Calipari said.
“You’re not going through the motions. You don’t take a day off. ‘I’m not feeling it today.’ Well, whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s OK, but you’re not going to be a significant player for us. You can be one of those guys deep in the bench, but a significant player brings it every day because he’s going to have to.
“All of that stuff that you learn through that freshman year is why guys come their sophomore years, you look at and say, ‘Wow. Big steps up.’”
Calipari said making continual growth is what the Kentucky program should be about.
“If after a year you’re ready mentally and physically and (NBA) teams want you, I’m good. If it takes you more time, tell me what the issue is?” the UK coach said. “It takes you more time. But guys that have come back have all helped themselves. That’s important to me.”
Juzang could have been one of those players to take a big step his second year. Remember Quickley averaged just over five points per game as a freshman and became SEC Player of the Year as a sophomore.
Juzang was getting better as the season progressed and his experience could have been really big for UK next year, especially if Tyrese Maxey, Quickley and Ashton Hagans all leave for the NBA as many suspect they will.
Instead, Juzang is leaving — probably for a school closer to home on the west coast — and one just hopes it works better for him than it did for former Cats Marcus Lee, Kyle Wiltjer and Jemarl Baker did when they left Kentucky like Juzang is doing.