Kentucky has brought in another highly regarded freshman class loaded with elite players, and one of the key pieces for the 2018-19 Wildcats is EJ Montgomery. The skilled 6’10” big man was a late addition to UK, committing and signing after the McDonald’s All-American Game.
Montgomery talked to Athlon Sports about why his game is so mature, who he compares himself to and why he de-committed from Auburn so quickly after the FBI probe broke.
Most people haven’t seen you play yet. What’s a scouting report on yourself?
I’m a skilled 4-man who tries to go hard all the time. I go after every rebound and try to do everything to help my team win. That’s the main thing for me — to win games. I think my game is a little like Anthony Davis in that I can face up and also post.
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What do you like to do off the court when you aren’t playing basketball?
Watch movies, play video games and just hang out with the guys. My favorite movies are “Love and Basketball,” “Friday” and “The Purge.” I play [NBA] 2K and Fortnite.
What are your goals this season?
Honestly, whatever coach needs me to do. I can score, rebound. Basically, whatever. I just want to win. The goal is for me to help Kentucky win games.
Your mom played at North Carolina Central and also coached at Indian River State College [in Florida]. What did you learn from her?
I learned to always make the right play, and always go hard from a very young age. She and my dad taught me the fundamentals and how to think the game.
Who is the coolest person you’ve ever met?
LeBron. I was with Ben Simmons, and we went to watch him play in Orlando. We got to go back in the locker room after the game and were able to meet some of the guys.
Who is your favorite NBA player?
It’s tough between Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis. I try to pattern my game after AD as a face-up 4-man, but I love KD for his mid-range game and his ability to dribble and pull up. Those are two of the best in the game right now, and I try to take things from both of them.
You committed to play for Bruce Pearl and Auburn in 2016. Why?
My sister played at Auburn, and I always went to games. I had a really good relationship with the staff, and at the time, I felt like it was the right place for me.
You de-committed a day after the FBI probe broke and Auburn was one of the schools involved. What happened?
I was already thinking about it before everything happened. I just didn’t want my name involved in all of that, so I decided to re-open my recruitment.
Why did you decide to sign with Kentucky?
It just felt like the right fit for me. I connected with the players that are here now, and [Coach] Cal and the rest of the coaching staff made it clear how much they really wanted me. Kentucky’s tradition speaks for itself, and this was a place I just saw myself succeeding and fitting in.
How was John Calipari able to convince you to choose Kentucky over Duke and other big-time programs?
He was saying that this is the right program for me, that I can thrive in this system, and that it fits my game perfectly.
Your real name is Efrem. How many people call you by that name?
Mostly everyone calls me EJ. Pretty much the only people that call me Efrem are teachers on the first day of school, but then they hear other people calling me EJ, and then that changes quickly.
What’s the highlight of your basketball career so far?
The McDonald’s All-American Game. That was a dream to be a part of, something you dream about when you are younger. It was just great to be selected, and then to be around so many great players was an honor.
You were rated high early in your high school career but then fell off before finishing ranked in the final top 10. How much did you pay attention, and did the fall motivate you at all?
I don’t really know why I fell, but it definitely made me work harder. It motivated me. I didn’t pay attention a lot to the rankings, but I look at them when they first come out and that’s about it. I think that’s the same for most players. We don’t get consumed by them, but we take a look when they first come out.
You have a couple of older sisters who both played in college and are playing professionally now. How did they help you on the court?
My oldest sister, Brittni, is 25, and my other sister, Brandy, is 23. Brittni played at Central Florida, and Brandy played at Auburn. There were a lot of late-night battles in the driveway, and they used to beat up on me. They helped teach and show me toughness. But they don’t play me anymore. When I started getting a little taller and bigger, they stopped playing me. I ask them all the time to play, but they just laugh and say they got the last win. I never beat them. They stopped playing me back when I was 9 or 10 years old.
I know you love to eat. What’s your favorite meal?
Steak, mashed potatoes and fries. If I could eat anything, that would be it.
What are you looking forward to most at Kentucky?
Just getting out there and being able to play in front of the fans. They are so passionate, and I can’t wait to be able to get on the court at Rupp.
What’s the key to this team competing for a national title?
Chemistry. We know we have the talent, but we have to stay close and play together. Play hard on every possession.
Who is the leader on this Kentucky team?
Probably PJ Washington and Reid Travis. PJ has been here for a year, and Reid is a veteran who played at Stanford for four years.
What’s it been like going against Reid?
He’s so big, strong and tough. He goes hard on every possession. I think I’m going to be able to learn a lot from a guy like him because of everything he’s already been through in college. Most of the time, we’ve been on the same team — and that’s the way I like it.
Who is the best player you have ever gone up against on the court?
Ben Simmons. I was teammates with him my freshman year at Montverde in Florida, and they had me guarding him almost every day in practice. He was so physical and went hard on every play. I also learned how he could have a bad play and continue onto the next one.
What music do you listen to?
Rap. I love Drake and Lil Baby.
What’s your take on social media these days? Are you active on it, and do you worry about it?
I’m pretty active on social media and definitely like it, but because I’ve been a recruit for a while, I’m used to everything that comes with it. I know you have to be careful, but it’s mostly fun for me.