Earning His Wings by Keith Oddo
The one thing that I hated more than anything during my time as a Louisville Cardinal was having David Johnson guard me in practice. Why? Well, for starters, DJ is a 6’5”, 220 pound point guard with a seven-foot wingspan that most Division 1 centers would desire. To go along with his imposing basketball frame, DJ has explosive athleticism that allows him to propel through the air when he jumps. As a result, when Coach Mack would ask the scout team to run an action against the first unit, DJ would effortlessly block shots, deflect passes, or strip the ball from his victim’s hands (which too often belonged to yours truly). In my five-year college basketball career, I have truly never felt more helpless on the basketball court and DJ thought it was all hilarious…
(Click on more for the rest of the story)
Besides his harassment of me on the defensive end in practice, DJ is truly one of the best dudes I have ever met. He is also one of the most talented and unique basketball players I have seen. I vividly remember after the first week of workouts in the summer of 2019, I called my Dad on the phone and said, “there is a freshmen that has NBA written all over him.” DJ was absolutely hooping in the preseason workouts, using his size and athletic prowess to get to his spots, finish above the rim, and to maximize his playmaking/passing abilities that never made you question whether or not he was a true point guard. DJ demonstrated a level maturity, high basketball IQ, and composure well beyond his years.
Unfortunately, DJ went down with a shoulder injury in a preseason workout, which forced him to miss the first few weeks of practice, as well as the first couple of games. This was a devastating blow for our team, as the coaches and players all knew that DJ was poised to compete for a starting spot early on. In addition, the time that DJ missed is a crucial time period for every freshman. DJ could not do upper body lifting, could not shoot, could not dribble, and missed out on a vital time period in every young player’s development on the court. However, similar to the way that Jae’lyn Withers embraced his redshirt season as an opportunity to learn and develop, DJ did a great job paying attention from the sideline. He learned from veteran guards like Fresh, Ryan, and Darius. As a result, when late November rolled around, and Coach Mack eased David back into the rotation, DJ was ready and prepared. Coach Mack expects every player on the bench to be ready to go when his name is called, and when Coach gave him the nod, DJ delivered.
While the fans got a glimpse of his potential when David scored his first points on a pair of dunks against USC Upstate on November 20th, it was not until January 18th that Card Nation fully appreciated the caliber of player they were seeing. David went from invisible to invincible during the biggest game of the season. With 19 points, seven assists, four rebounds, three steals, and who could forget, three monster dunks, David led us to victory at Duke. In that game, you not only saw how composed David was in one of the loudest and most hostile environments in college basketball, but you saw how uniquely skilled he is. At 6 foot 5, David was able to use his big frame to shoot over and get to his spots against the smaller Duke guards. He was quite simply bigger, stronger, faster, and more talented than his unsuspecting counterparts. On a personal level, I felt some level of validation that the Duke players got a glimpse of what I dealt with on a daily basis in practice, as DJ used his seven-foot wingspan to cause havoc on the defensive end. It was a game and a performance that I will never forget. I almost felt sorry for Duke…almost.
After his breakout game at Duke, everyone saw David’s confidence grow every time he stepped on the court. It was also increasingly apparent to all of us that he was the missing piece that we needed to make a run – he gave us another ball handler, he could create his own shots, and he was rapidly becoming our best playmaker. Although he needs to improve the consistency of his three point shot, DJ has the mechanics to be a very good outside shooter (22% from 3). He has a high release and a nice rotation on his ball, so I fully expect to see his three-point percentage increase significantly next season. I would also love to see DJ increase his vocal presence on the court. As the point guard, you have to have command of your team, which sometimes means yelling at someone to get them where you want them, or shouting out a play so that everyone can hear you in a hostile environment on the road. While this would have been asking too much of a true freshman, especially on a team with so many veterans, as a sophomore, I think DJ will have an opportunity to become the true leader of this team.
If David works on developing a more consistent jump shot and continues to improve his command of the team, then watch out. Let’s just say that, as a Knicks’ fan (we all know they will be in the lottery), I hope to be hearing, “With the X pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select, David Johnson, guard, Louisville.”
Love you bro.
Until next week,