With five power-conference programs to choose from, Keshad Johnson could have picked any of them and it probably would have been a great fit for his final season of college basketball. But only one was able to reunite him with his childhood idol.
Having Andre Iguodala attend his graduation party was icing on the cake.
“Growing up in the Bay Area I’d always been a Warriors fan,” Johnson, a transfer from San Diego State, told reporters Wednesday. “Once I started to grow and get taller and stuff like that, I started to kind of like mold my game kind of like after somebody like him. Like the role that he played, being athletic, being defensive-minded.’
Iguodala joined Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd in Oakland in late May for Johnson’s graduation party, a celebration of him being the first person on his mother’s side of the family to graduate from college. That was also when he publicly committed to the UA over Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and USC.
“For Tommy to come down to the to the Bay Area to celebrate that with me, it was like okay, these guys really want me, it’s real genuine,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to find people like that. I’m glad I made that decision.”
That was actually the second time Johnson had met Iguodala, the former UA star who has spent eight of his 19-season NBA career with the Golden State Warriors, Johnson’s favorite team. The first was in eighth grade, at a Splash Brothers Camp, when he got to meet Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Iguodala, but he didn’t know at the time that Iguodala was a UA alum.
A 6-foot-8 forward, Johnson is one of three transfers Arizona has added this offseason, along with guards Jaden Bradley (Alabama) and Caleb Love (North Carolina). He and San Diego State knocked off Bradley and top overall seed Alabama in the Sweet 16 en route to reaching the NCAA title game, where Johnson had 14 points in the loss to UConn.
Johnson calls the Aztecs’ run to the final as “surreal” and “really like a fairy tale, even now,” but having gone through it he believes he can pass on that experience to his new teammates, most of whom don’t have much past NCAA Tournament success. The exception is Love, who was the starting point guard on UNC’s championship game squad in 2022.
Though he and Love are new to the UA program, Johnson feels what they’ve gone through can only help those around them.
“As a student, you want a teacher that has been there and done that before,” he said.
Johnson played four years at SDSU, coming off the bench his first two seasons and then starting the past two. He averaged 7.7 points and 5.0 rebounds on 53.2 percent shooting in 2022-23, and not long after the finals loss he put his name into the NBA Draft.
He also entered the NCAA transfer portal, keeping his options open while he went through the draft process. A return to SDSU was “on the table,” but he knew that his former school couldn’t hold a spot for him.
“It’s hard for a coach to like pretty much say like, okay I’m going to wait on you,” he said. “That’s just how it goes, like it’s a business, and I understood that, so it got to a point where I had (think that) San Diego State was not an option.”
There’s no ill will between him and the Aztecs coaching staff, though. In fact, he said head coach Brian Dutcher imparted him with a particular piece of guidance he fully intends to use at Arizona and beyond.
“He said, take one thing from film that can save the game,” Johnson said. “So that’s one thing I’m gonna take with me for the rest of my career.”
As for the draft feedback he got, Johnson said none of it was new. Scouts liked his size, body type and athleticism but wanted to see him improve his shot-making ability.
“I didn’t go in there and hear anything that was new to me,” he said. “I just got to show more.”
One place Johnson will have more opportunities to show at Arizona, than with SDSU, is in the open court. The Wildcats played at the 13th-fastest pace in the country last season, their 81.6 points per game No. 6 nationally, compared to SDSU’s No. 262 pace and 71.2 points per game (188th).
“It’s just a different style of play,” Johnson said.