This Kentucky Mr. Basketball from Lexington has by no means performed in Rupp Arena. He will tonight.


While Tuesday night’s matchup at Rupp Arena between Bellarmine and No. 19 Kentucky will make men’s college basketball history within the commonwealth, it’s going to additionally function a homecoming for each a present and former Knight.

Bellarmine redshirt freshman guard Ben Johnson starred at Lexington Catholic High School.

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Johnson was the 2021 Kentucky Mr. Basketball at LexCath after averaging 27 factors per recreation his senior season. A four-year starter and two-time staff captain for the Knights, Johnson left the college because the Knights’ all-time main scorer.

But regardless of a mixed 107-41 document throughout his highschool profession (Johnson additionally performed as an eighth-grader), Lexington Catholic by no means made it to the Sweet 16, which suggests Johnson — a lifelong Lexington resident and UK fan — by no means acquired the possibility to play basketball inside Rupp Arena.

That is, till Tuesday.

“I’m just super excited. A bunch of my friends ended up going to Kentucky and obviously all of my family is from Lexington, so I’ll have a bunch of people there,” Johnson instructed the Herald-Leader in a cellphone interview Monday afternoon. “I’m really, really excited. A little nervous, but mostly excited.”

It’s common for a Kentucky Mr. Basketball winner to go to one of many commonwealth’s mid-major applications: Since Quentin Snider, the 2014 Kentucky Mr. Basketball, opted to go to Louisville, all eight subsequent Mr. Basketball award winners have hung out at a mid-major program in Kentucky.

But Johnson’s choice to decide to Bellarmine — a faculty now within the third yr of a four-year transition interval from NCAA Division II to Division I, which means the Knights can compete for convention titles however can’t qualify for NCAA postseason play — stands out.

“The one thing that stuck out to me about Bellarmine was their style of play. Everybody just moved the ball really well, it wasn’t like a one-on-one, iso game like you see a lot,” Johnson mentioned. “It was close to home as well.”

A veteran-heavy Bellarmine staff within the 2021-22 season meant Johnson redshirted throughout his first yr at Bellarmine, giving him a front-row seat to one in all faculty basketball’s standout tales final season.

In solely its second yr on the Division I degree, Bellarmine gained the ASUN Conference Tournament, a triumph that got here without the added bonus of an NCAA Tournament journey (Jacksonville State, the ASUN regular-season champion, acquired the automated bid as an alternative).

Duke’s Jaylen Blakes (2) handles the ball as Bellarmine’s Ben Johnson, proper, defends throughout their recreation Nov. 21 at Durham, N.C. Ben McKeown AP

Now, Johnson is a daily rotation participant for Bellarmine who made his faculty debut in a season-opening road win at Louisville and who simply had a standout efficiency in one in all faculty basketball’s most historic venues.

The Knights (2-5) final performed on Sunday and misplaced by 21 factors at No. 21 UCLA. Bellarmine was shorthanded for that contest, down a starter and two bench gamers resulting from accidents suffered throughout a Saturday observe.

The opportunistic Johnson recorded career-bests in minutes (28), subject objectives made (eight), subject objectives tried (14) and factors (20) towards the Bruins.

“It was awesome, not many people get the experience to even play in Pauley (Pavilion), but going out there and having a good game and scoring 20 points in front of people, it was really awesome,” Johnson mentioned.

Johnson even acquired a shout out from Kentucky males’s basketball head coach John Calipari on Monday evening, throughout Calipari’s weekly radio present.

“Played great against UCLA,” Calipari mentioned of Johnson.

It stays to be seen how wholesome the Knights shall be for Tuesday evening’s journey to Lexington, which can cap a historic nine-day stretch for this system with highway video games at Duke, Loyola Marymount, UCLA and Kentucky.

When speaking to reporters Monday, Bellarmine head coach Scott Davenport mentioned beginning graduate scholar guard Juston Betz shall be a game-time choice to play towards the Wildcats.

Regardless of which of his teammates shall be accessible to play, Johnson is trying ahead to his homecoming and eventually getting the chance to play inside Rupp Arena.

“The John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins team comes to mind, and obviously when Anthony Davis won the championship. Just playing on the same court as those guys is indescribable,” Johnson mentioned.

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Ben Johnson gained Mr. Basketball honors at Lexington Catholic in 2021 however has by no means had the chance to play a recreation in Rupp Arena. Alex Slitz [email protected]


Bellarmine at No. 19 Kentucky

When: 7 p.m.

TV: SEC Network Plus (on-line solely)

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: Bellarmine 2-5, Kentucky 4-2

Series: First assembly

Cameron Drummond works as a sports activities reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader with a deal with Kentucky males’s basketball recruiting and the UK males’s basketball staff, horse racing, soccer and different sports activities in Central Kentucky. Drummond is a first-generation American who was born and raised in Texas, earlier than graduating from Indiana University. He is a fluent Spanish speaker who beforehand labored as a neighborhood news reporter in Austin, Texas.


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