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Jasper Johnson 'really enjoyed' Kentucky visit, Mark Pope's push

Jack PIlgrimby:Jack Pilgrim06/19/24

Can Mark Pope reel in his first big fish at Kentucky? He’s hoping to pull it off with Lexington’s own Jasper Johnson, the nation’s No. 10 overall prospect and a consensus five-star right out of the Wildcats’ backyard.

Johnson, one of the best scoring guards in high school basketball, is coming off an unofficial visit to Kentucky as he looks to ramp up the recruiting process with a number of additional visits on the docket — he’ll be back at UK with fellow in-state standout on Thursday, followed by officials to Alabama this weekend and Illinois starting Monday.

How did things go in Johnson’s first trip over to campus on Tuesday to watch practice and meet with coaches?

“I liked it a lot. Pope gave me a message that he really is prioritizing me and he wants to coach me,” the five-star guard said in an appearance on KSR on Wednesday. “I really liked seeing their offense in practice, seeing a lot of new faces. They’ve got a whole new team. I’ll be very interested to see how they do this season, but I really enjoyed my visit.”

His trip to Kentucky comes after Pope traveled out to Argentina to watch him win a gold medal with USA Basketball in the FIBA U18 AmeriCup a week ago. The head coach and his entire staff have also watched Johnson at every other live period event since the start of the spring — a full-court press put on by the Wildcats.

The in-state standout has certainly noticed.

“I mean, I’ve talked to all of the coaches there. Each one has reached out to me, they’ve texted or called me individually,” Johnson said. “Coach Pope is really putting in the effort to recruit me himself. He calls and FaceTimes me a lot. He actually came to Argentina to watch the games and see me play so to see him putting in that effort, it really means a lot. It shows a lot.”

Kentucky certainly isn’t the only school in the picture — again, Alabama and Illinois are getting visits in the coming days while North Carolina, Auburn, Baylor, Arkansas and Louisville are the other schools making a push.

How is he navigating this recruiting process with so much interest coming his way?

“I know each school has a different pitch, each school has something new to offer,” he said. “So I mean, really just staying patient with my decision and making sure that whenever I make my decision, I make the right choice for me. There’s a lot that goes into it, but I’m just being patient about it and praying about it.”

What will be the deciding factor when it comes time to make a decision, one he says is currently on the back burner as he navigates the results of the coaching carousel spinning out of control to open the offseason? Fit and trust.

“Really a program that is the best fit for me, somewhere where I can go and make mistakes and grow from them,” Johnson said. “A coaching staff that really trusts and believes in me.”

Fortunately for Kentucky fans hoping the Lexington native stays home, Pope and the Wildcats check both of those boxes.

“I know Coach Pope — he was talking to me yesterday and he was saying that he feels like I’m one of the best scorers, if not the best scorer in the country,” Johnson said. “His offense and setup, he’s been trying to see if I can fit into that and he thinks I can. Him telling me I can come in there and impact from day one, it means a lot.”

It’s still early, but Pope is doing whatever it takes to land the prized in-state talent.

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