College Basketball

Former San Diego State Hoops Star Keshad Johnson Transfers to Arizona

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Arizona Adds a Massive Piece in Former Aztec Star

Keshad Johnson, a 6-foot-7 forward who played a significant role in San Diego State’s run to the national championship game last season, had numerous suitors when he entered the transfer portal. After careful consideration and discussions with his family, Johnson made his decision on Saturday, committing to join the Arizona Wildcats. His choice came over offers from other notable programs such as the Kentucky Wildcats, Oklahoma Sooners, Texas Tech Red Raiders, and USC Trojans.

Johnson’s commitment to Arizona was a victory for the Wildcats, while Kentucky lost out on the opportunity to secure his services. Both coaches, Tommy Lloyd of Arizona and John Calipari of Kentucky, had hosted Johnson for official visits. The Athletic ranked Johnson as the 10th-best available prospect in the transfer portal. While his statistics may not be eye-catching, with 7.7 points and 5.0 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game last season, Johnson’s impact goes beyond mere numbers. Throughout his college career, he has shown his value on the court, particularly during the NCAA Tournament.

“First of all, an elite defender,” said San Diego State assistant Dave Velasquez. “He can guard every single position on the floor, is a really good defensive rebounder and he’s capable of a lot offensively but really understands who he is — someone who shoots an incredible percentage from 15 feet and in — and gets others involved. His ability to work around other really good players is why we were able to go to the national championship game. He’s that glue guy you need: not really bad at anything and solid to very good at everything.”

Serious Experience in Big Time Games

Having participated in eight NCAA Tournament games, Johnson played a crucial role in San Diego State’s impressive run to the national championship game this year. In the Sweet 16 upset over No. 1 seed Alabama, he contributed eight points, six rebounds, a block, and a steal, and effectively defended All-American star Brandon Miller, who failed to score when guarded by Johnson. In the Elite Eight victory over Creighton, Johnson played a pivotal role in a seven-minute stretch, scoring or assisting on eight points and securing key rebounds as San Diego State erased a seven-point deficit. He also had a notable performance in the national championship game against Connecticut, recording 14 points and four rebounds.

While Johnson may not be the primary option for Arizona, who already boasts talents like All-Pac-12 center Oumar Ballo and former Pac-12 sixth man of the year Pelle Larsson, his experience and contributions in critical moments make him a valuable addition to the team. Johnson’s former coach emphasized that assessing his impact based solely on statistics would be misleading.

“He’s a worker. He’s an everyday guy. He’s someone you can rely on,” Velasquez said. “He’s the ultimate winner, the ultimate teammate, everything you’d ever want in a player as a coach in terms of leadership. He’s the definition of a leader: vocal, sets an example, has the ability to calm guys down in the most stressful moments and get guys to rise up in the moments when they need a kick in the rear end. He’s just a total leader, and not just games. He led us in practices and film sessions, by having a great attitude traveling through the Mountain West, which isn’t easy, bringing an energy that is infectious when you’re stuck in airports and riding the bus. Every coach in the world is looking for a guy like him.”

Although Kentucky pursued Johnson, it is disappointing that they couldn’t secure his commitment, especially considering his reaction and the positive impression he had during his visit. However, Johnson’s decision to join Arizona suggests that there may not be room for another high-profile player like Chris Livingston to return to Kentucky. Livingston, who opted out of 5-on-5 scrimmages at the NBA Draft Combine, has faced criticism from NBA scouts and is considered a borderline draft pick.