The Orange will also return a frontcourt-heavy roster, replete with a trio of pivots—sophomore DaJuan Coleman, senior reserve Baye Moussa Keita and incoming freshman Chinonso Obokoh—on top of hybrid forward-center Rakeem Christmas. That leaves little opportunity for Johnson to crack the rotation as a freshman, which is critical for the Florida hotshot.
Kentucky, meanwhile, presents a tempting situation for the eager-to-prove-himself Johnson. Nerlens Noel is one-and-done material, prepared to pass the baton to the next No. 1 center in line. Despite an underwhelming freshman campaign to date, Noel’s upside, projectable tools and measurements all but ensure he’ll be a top-five pick in June’s draft. Willie Cauley-Stein, Big Blue’s heralded backup center, could trail Noel once again, this time en route to the NBA. What it all means for Johnson: playing time wouldn’t be an issue at Kentucky as it would at Syracuse.
John Calipari’s star-studded 2013 recruiting class already features a cast of talented guards, wings and high-upside forwards: Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis. A true, physical center, however, is missing to round out the mix. Kentucky is likely to strike out on each of its other two frontcourt targets, Texas power forward Julius Randle and California standout Aaron Gordon. A California native, Gordon plans to play his basketball out West (Arizona or Washington), as Busting Brackets reported earlier this week.
Kentucky’s biggest advantage of all, though, may have little to do with logistics and everything to do with location and comfort. The nomadic Johnson, who last resided in New Jersey before booking south to Florida, lived in Lexington for several years while he was in middle school. Johnson has extended family in the area with whom he’s become very close, and the pull of familiarity alone could be too much for either Georgetown or Syracuse to top.
The three programs still standing on Johnson’s Big Board have seen this song and dance before. They know down what road this recruitment is heading after traveling a similar one last April. Of the last four high school centers ranked No. 1 in their class at the position, Coach Cal has reeled in three. Roughly four months from now–approximating the one-year anniversary of Noel’s buzz cut revelation–Dakari Johnson figures to extend that streak to four-for-five.