Pandemic may have played a part in Juzang’s decision to transfer from Kentucky

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Seemingly omnipresent, the coronavirus pandemic may have played a part in freshman Johnny Juzang’s decision to leave Kentucky’s basketball program.

Juzang’s high school coach suggested the ongoing pandemic may have contributed to Juzang’s desire to be closer to his family.

“Maybe what’s going on (is the coronavirus) providing a little more perspective,” said David Rebibo, who coached Juzang for Harvard-Westlake in the Los Angeles area. “Sometimes you think you’ve got it all figured out. And next thing you know, they’re stuck at home in a pandemic. And everything has kind of changed. And your outlook on things may have changed.”

In a Friday news release announcing Juzang’s intention to transfer, UK Coach John Calipari said the player wanted to return to the West Coast.

Rebibo echoed that view, saying the coronavirus drives home the reality that family ties are not ever-lasting.

“Just being around family, being closer to family,” he said. “Having family to be able to be at his games. Just being able to spend time with them. I think that probably played a part, and that’s been a key contributor to this.”

Rebibo also cited a desire for a larger role as a factor in the decision to transfer. Juzang averaged 12.4 minutes as a freshman.

When asked why Juzang apparently did not see a larger role in future UK seasons, Rebibo spoke of the fluid nature of Kentucky’s roster from season to season.

“I think, perhaps, the unknown of who’s coming back (and) who’s going,” Rebibo said. “The harsh reality of grad transfers potentially coming in and getting a bigger role.”

The clarifying player-coach meeting at the end of each season did not happen this year in the scramble resulting from the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament and class work limited to online instruction, Rebibo said.

“At the end of the day, every player has to trust their gut,” Rebibo said. “And if Johnny really felt like he wanted to get home and create a different opportunity for himself, then I think you’ve got to follow that.”

In the news release announcing his intention to transfer, Juzang called his freshman season “one of the best experiences of my life.” He expressed gratitude for how he grew as a person. “From the bottom of my heart I’m going to miss this place,” he said.

Rebibo spoke of Juzang being a hot commodity as a transfer.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just out West.”

Rebibo said the recruiting interest in Juzang would come from “virtually the entire West Coast.” He also said among the schools that had expressed an interest were Georgetown, Wake Forest, Butler, Notre Dame and Marquette.

Juzang, who was ranked No. 34 on a list of high school prospects compiled by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, averaged 2.9 points as a UK freshman. He made 10 of his final 20 three-point shots to increase his season’s shooting accuracy from beyond the arc to 32.6 percent.

“Juzang has a really big upside,” SEC Network analyst Jimmy Dykes wrote in a text message. “Big guard that I think will become a real threat as a shooter going forward. That size and shot is a package valued by everyone.

“He needs to be a four-year college guy and develop an overall better game. But, the potential for him is there. Smart. Works. Will become a really good scorer in time.”

Rebibo said he expected Juzang to make a decision on the transfer “fairly quickly.”

Corey Evans, a recruiting analyst who works for, pointed out on Friday that Southern California had ties to Juzang. The Trojans will have two players next season who played with Juzang on an AAU team: sophomore-to-be Isaiah Mobley and incoming freshman Evan Mobley. Plus, the brothers’ father, Eric Mobley, is an assistant coach for Southern Cal.

Rebibo cautioned against the assumption that Juzang, an honor roll student at Harvard-Westlake, will transfer to Southern Cal.

“Johnny is going to do his due diligence,” Rebibo said. “And he’s going to make the best decision for him and for what he thinks is going to make him the most successful basketball player. I don’t think there’s any indication that SC is in the front, back or in the middle.

“I think this is just a wait-and-see game. Staying on the West Coast is probably something he wants to do. But, he’s open to finding the best fit for him.”


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