JaJuan Johnson Deals With the Hype of Being the No. 1 D-League Draft Pick
A year after going 27th overall in the NBA Draft, JaJuan Johnson joined the NBA D-League's Fort Wayne Mad Ants in November as the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA D-League Draft. Never mind the fact that the league was getting a big man trained by Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett -- not to mention a former Big Ten Player of the Year -- the Mad Ants were getting something like a local celebrity, after Johnson starred for the Purdue Boilermakers.
Instead, Johnson has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, averaging 11.7 points with 9.7 rebounds and shooting 33 percent from the floor - numbers causing him to slide from our editors' No. 1 Prospect to start the season to now the seventh.
"I'm probably my toughest critic," he said. "Coming into the season I wanted to play well. I still definitely want to play well. Playing in front of a home crowd, you obviously have a lot of support here, so I want them to see me play well too."
Mad Ants coach Duane Ticknor said that while Johnson certainly hasn't performed poorly, he just needs to hone in on a few things to play at a level that'll get him back into the NBA.
"Obviously expectations are high but he's still averaging just around a double-double and he's in the top 5 blockers in the league," Ticknor said. "He's a tremendous athlete. For a 6'11 guy, he's got a lot of length and athleticisim and can really run the floor for a guy his size."
Johnson said he's not happy with his performances, but instead of beating himself up about it, he's taking action. He was a first round draft pick for the Boston Celtics in 2011 and is taking a piece of advice Kevin Garnett gave him about sluggish performances.
"One thing I remember what Kevin Garnett told me, it was 'You gotta do what got you here.'" he said. "I just try to remember what got me here, and that was running the floor, good defense and scoring. Just a little bit of everything at that high level."
Johnson said he's been coming to practice maybe an hour or so early beforehand getting time to work on his shots and post moves. It's the latter that Ticknor said is the key for him to reach his true potential.
"He needs to get stronger physically," Ticknor said. "He has a tendency to get pushed around in the low post, so he needs to work on his positioning offensively and defensively."
Johnson is slowly turning things around. This past weekend, he put up 18 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks against the Springfield Armor and the week before he logged 12 blocks in two games. He said consistency to those numbers is what will get him playing at the level he wants to be at.
"I put more pressure on myself than anyone because I know what I can do," he said.