The 7-foot freshman center announced Wednesday that he will return to the Wildcats for the 2014-15 season, joining teammates Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee who have also made the announcement prior to the upcoming April 27 deadline.
"After looking at the information provided to me by Coach Cal and the NBA committee, my family and I made the decision for me to return to UK for my sophomore year," Johnson said in a statement released by the school. "Returning to school allows me to build on my leadership skills, improve my individual basketball strength and conditioning skills, and have another opportunity to accomplish one of my individual goals: winning an NCAA national championship in college.
Johnson started 18 of Kentucky's last 20 games, averaging 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds. He became a bigger focus of the Cats' offense later in the season, particularly in their NCAA Tournament run, scoring 15 against Louisville in the third round and 10 against Wisconsin in the Final Four. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native shot 62 percent from the field in tournament play.
"I'm happy to have Dakari back with us for next season," UK coach John Calipari said. "Despite being the youngest player on the team this season, he continued to improve every day on the court and it showed. We look forward to seeing his improvement over the summer and throughout next year."
Kentucky's returning frontcourt will feature a pair of 7-footers in Cauley-Stein and Johnson, as well as the 6-9 Lee and 6-7 Poythress. The Cats will also add five-star McDonald's All-Americans Karl Towns Jr. (7-0) and Trey Lyles (6-10) to the mix, forming one of the deepest and tallest front lines in recent NCAA history.
UK also released a statement from Johnson's mother, Makini Campbell:
"I just wanted to take some time to reflect, share, and thank the Big Blue Nation and the coaching staff for a great year of basketball through the ups and downs. Hands down we had a blast! I am so proud of Dakari and the University of Kentucky basketball program on their achievements this year. I had the opportunity to see my son grow as an individual and become the leader that I knew him to be.
"I appreciate the space, patience and respect shown to my family during this important time. What a blessing to have an opportunity to choose. When making a decision (we have made many) we try to look at the whole picture (advantages and disadvantages). I must truly admit when going through the process we saw both sides of the coin as a win-win. I must say that in making his decision, Dakari wasn't worried about any other player coming back/or in. I think what he learned this year -- regardless of a loaded talented team – is that each player brings something unique to the group that attributed to the March run.
"I've always been aware of his goal to win a national championship in high school, college, and the NBA. For him to confidently state what he did after his national high school championship game and make it to the finals in his freshman year of college was prosperous within itself. All of this while successfully working on his degree and enjoying college life whenever he could. I respect each of the young men having to make this decision. Congrats to Julius Randle and James Young for making their dream reality; I wish them all the best. I'm excited about the upcoming season and what lies ahead for this group."