Kentucky Basketball: Dakari Johnson Will Be the Most Improved Player in 2014-15

Bobby ReaganFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

Kentucky center Dakari Johnson (44) celebrates during the second half of an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game against Wisconsin Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

Kentucky basketball will have no shortage of talent on its roster in the 2014-15 season.

However, one player in particular will stick out when it comes to improvement from the year prior. That would be Dakari Johnson, who will stick out for reasons more than being an imposing 7'0" figure.

This is due to two crucial decisions that were made in 2014.

The first was Kentucky head coach John Calipari inserting Johnson into the starting lineup in favor of incumbent Willie Cauley-Stein. The second decision was Johnson deciding to return to Lexington for his sophomore year instead of testing the NBA draft waters.

The addition of Johnson into the starting lineup proved to be beneficial to the New York native as a freshman, mainly because it increased his confidence. When he became a starter, Johnson looked to attack the glass more and be more assertive in calling for the ball when posting his defender up.

It allowed him to get involved in the game early, building his confidence by the time March rolled around.

Don't expect that to change as a sophomore. After showing he can preform on the biggest stage, including a 15-point, six-rebound game in 31 minutes against Louisville in the Sweet 16, Johnson should have no problem playing like a top performer in 2014-15.

The second reason Johnson and not one of the Harrison twins (Aaron and Andrew), Marcus Lee or Cauley-Stein will be the most improved player is a pretty simple: He'll be in better condition.

When Johnson first came to Kentucky, he always looked a step slow. That wasn't too shocking given his size at 7'0" and 265 pounds. Nevertheless, it hurt him when it came to playing time. He didn't see any action against Belmont early in the season because he was a liability on the floor against a quicker team.

Johnson's lack of conditioning also caused him to get into foul trouble early and often.

Then, Christmas break happened. With an 11-day break between games, Calipari pushed his players during practice. This turned out to be a blessing because Johnson somehow found the endurance and conditioning that he had previously lacked.

Prior to conference play, the most he played in a game was 14 minutes against Michigan State. After that break, he averaged over 16 minutes per contest.

The last reason Johnson will be the most improved player on the team is due to the talent he'll practice against.

There's a plethora of big men on Kentucky's roster who could start for numerous teams across the country. Instead, Johnson will be battling them every day for a spot not only in the starting lineup, but in the rotation. He'll get to experience going against different types of players, too.

Whether it's a long, thin shot-blocker in Lee, a veteran in Cauley-Stein or players who can stretch the floor like Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles, Johnson will get to see it all.

Calipari's practices should be intense, with players fighting for minutes. Most importantly for Kentucky and its fans, it will give them a dominant starting center.