James Johnson visits the Bulls for a pre-draft workout
(Adam Fluck/Chicago Bulls)
Wake Forest’s James Johnson (6-8/245) may have been grouped with three smaller, quicker players, including North Carolina’s Wayne Ellington, but it didn’t bother him. If anything, he saw it as an opportunity to showcase his own quickness and athleticism and show the Bulls coaches and scouts at the Berto Center on Monday that he’s ready to play small forward in the NBA.
As a sophomore at Wake Forest, Johnson averaged 15.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game as the Demon Deacons went 24-7. He became the third player in Wake Forest history to leave early for the NBA, joining Rodney Rogers in 1993 and Chris Paul in 2005. A versatile forward with strong ballhandling and passing abilities, Johnson is projected to be a late lottery to mid-first round pick.
Bulls.com: How did your workout go?
James Johnson: It was different, going up against a bunch of little guys out there. I was the only one taller than 6-foot-6, but the overall competition level was high and the coaches kept it intense the whole time. It went by fast but was a lot of fun. If you’re in shape and ready to go at it, these workouts are great.
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Johnson: Of course. I’ve got the ability to change my speeds, kind of like pitches in baseball, and I like competing against smaller guys, showing that I can still get to the rim even if they are supposed to be quicker. I could have posted up every time, but there’s no fun in that. I’m here to work on my skills and do the best I can in these workouts.
Bulls.com: Talk about your career at Wake Forest. How did playing in the ACC prepare you for the NBA?
Johnson: Regardless of what anyone else says, the ACC is the greatest conference in all of college basketball. If you don’t believe me, just ask Wayne [Ellington]. My experience at Wake was great; I got to play against some high-level teams and big name teams, like Wayne and North Carolina. You have to go hard every night against guys like that and be ready to play.
Bulls.com: Your good friend and former teammate Jeff Teague is gearing up for the draft as well. Have often do the two of you talk?
Johnson: He’s my best friend and we’re talking a lot right now as we go through the same things. We’ve been in the same boat since freshman year. Now we both left after two years and we’re both heading into the draft. It’s good to have someone like that you can talk to. I let him know I’ve got his back and he’s got mine.
Bulls.com: What’s a quick scouting report on Teague?
Johnson: He’s very shifty and he gets to the rim. He can shoot the ball and he’s got a lot of speed.
Bulls.com: Being the middle child in a family of seven brothers and one sister, what was your basketball experience like growing up?
Johnson: I got beat up on at a young age. [laughing] They never let me win, whether it was basketball or football. I didn’t like losing, obviously; then in eighth grade I played basketball for the school for the first time. My height gave me a big advantage right away, but then I started to develop my skills. When you’re playing with your older brothers outside at the park, you don’t get the ball too often in the post. So I was able to develop some handles and learned how to bring the ball up the court and drive to the basket. By freshman year, I was on the varsity team.
Bulls.com: Have you modeled your game after any NBA player in particular? Which players do you watch?
Johnson: I pick up things from just about everybody in the league—Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, Kobe and LeBron, of course, Dwight Howard and his post-up game, and Pau Gasol. I try to take a little from everyone’s game. There’s no one in particular I watch; I just want to learn.
Bulls.com: How do you expect your game to translate on the pro level? What are your greatest strengths?
Johnson: I think I’ll be interchangeable between the two, three and four spots. I’m constantly working on my body figure, so I think I’ll be able to play any of those positions. It’s just up to the coaches. I can create my own jump shot. I love winning above all, and I can get to the rim.
Bulls.com: Your father is a seven-time world kickboxing champion and you have used martial arts to train and went 21-0 in competition. Have you incorporated any elements of those sports into basketball?
Johnson: Well, being 6-foot-8 and about 250, I don’t have the same kind of speed as the smaller guards. In marshal arts, you have to be so quick on your feet and do a lot of agility training. So those things have stuck with me and they help me against the quicker guys.
Bulls.com: Mock drafts have you being a late lottery pick to mid first round. Do you think you’d be a good fit for the Bulls at 16?
Johnson: If I’m available at 16 and they want me, I would love to play here. You see the six trophies and everyone’s name on the banners, like Jordan, Pippen, Paxson and Armstrong, and hopefully some day we could hang a few with James Johnson and Derrick Rose on them.
Bulls.com: Being from Wake Forest, you’re obviously familiar with Chris Paul. What similarities do you see between him and Rose?
Johnson: Derrick has all the tools that Chris has and may even be a little faster. We both graduated high school in 2007, so I’ve known of him for awhile and he has a ton of potential. He’s already playing like an All-Star, and he’s going to get a lot better.
Bulls.com:What do you know about the current Bulls team and how would you fit in?
Johnson: I like them a lot. They’re cool and they keep you working hard. Coach Del Negro showed me a few tips after the workout about coming off screens and I’m going to use those. It was a good experience here and I’d be happy to be back.
Bulls Director of College Scouting Matt Lloyd on James Johnson:
“James Johnson is a combo forward who tested very well athletically and basketball-wise. His size, along with his ballhandling and passing abilities, will give him a huge advantage if he plays small forward in the NBA, which is his projected position.”