By Larry Vaught


If you wonder how Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson developed his toughness on the basketball court, his father can tell you.

Chris Johnson still remembers when his youngest son was a little boy and would be playing basketball outside — sometimes when the temperature was close to 100 degrees — and had to be forced to quit playing before he would come inside.

“No matter how hot it was, he wanted to keep playing,” Chris Johnson said. “His work ethic was just amazing. We were truly blessed with how hard he wanted to work to be the best player he could be.

“His two older brothers kind of beat up on him in the yard to toughen him up. I would send him right back out if he came in crying and complaining. Then one day my oldest son ended up coming in the house crying. After that, Keldon never came back in crying. I’m still not exactly sure what happened that day but those things are where his toughness came from at an early age.”

Keldon Johnson thinks he started playing basketball with his brothers when he was about 7 years old. He had to find a way to compete with them, and did with his physical play.

“I am definitely the physical player I am today due to playing with my brothers in the back yard. They pushed me around, so now I push other people around. Seems only fair to me,” he laughed and said.

He played football when he was younger until his father made him quit.

“I wanted to play again when I got older, but my dad wouldn’t let me because I was good in basketball,” Johnson said.

That toughness can also lead to a bit of trash talking from the Kentucky freshman wing. He readily admits he talks trash — even during practice to teammates. Those who have played with or against him know it’s just part of his game.

“I would say I am a pretty big trash talker,” Johnson said.

He certainly was at the McDonald’s All-American Game in Atlanta in April when he was competing against several Duke signees.

“I just wanted to let them know we are coming for them at Kentucky. I don’t let them, or anybody, run over top of me. I am a nice person. It’s nothing personal,”  Johnson said.

He showed just how good he could be at times during Kentucky’s four-game exhibition trip to the Bahamas in August. He’s an explosive playmaker getting into the lane, can run the court with ease and is not afraid to lock down anyone on defense.

He played his senior year at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy for legendary coach Steve Smith, who has coached numerous high school All-Americans and future NBA players. Smith knows Kentucky has an elite player in Johnson.

“I have coached a lot of players, guys who have won the Naismith Trophy, become (NBA) lottery picks, been named player of the year (in college),” Smith said. “He’s that same level of player. He’s really good. He can hold his own with anybody."

He also plays with a chip on his shoulder that shows with the intensity he has not only in games, but even in practice or weight room workouts.

“He always felt he was underrated,” Chris Johnson said. “It has never been just about scoring for him, either. He will get down and play defense. If you score on him, he will take it personal.”

And probably even let you know about it because that’s just the personality he has that Kentucky fans are going to love.