After draining his seventh basket from the floor against North Dakota, a gigantic smile took over Marquette sophomore guard Jajuan Johnson’s face.
Once again Johnson displayed his scoring ability and the BMO Harris Bank Bradley Center crowd, which braved the treacherous cold, erupted into an applause. One could not help but wonder if this is what the Memphis native has been waiting to experience since joining the program 18 months ago.
Ever since Johnson stepped onto campus, he has never been “the guy.”
Last season, in the midst of the worst campaigns in program history, Johnson was an afterthought as his fellow freshman Deonte Burton was considered the only positive from the horrendous season. Being handicapped by former head coach Buzz Williams’ mindset to never play his freshman significant minutes, Johnson was never given the chance to shine.
Averaging 4.3 points over the course of 13.5 minutes per game did not jump off the page. Clearly, Johnson possessed the talent to be a steady contributor for the Golden Eagles, but he was never given the opportunity to display his personal growth.
There were whispers this summer, as Steve Wojciechowski settled in as the new head coach, that Johnson might bolt for a school that was closer to home. Thankfully for Wojo and the entire program, the second-year man decided to stick around.
Even as the 2014-15 season kicked off, Johnson still remained in the background.
Burton was heralded as one of the top sophomores in the country to begin the season. Duane Wilson was stealing the show with his countless impressive performances. Captains Juan Anderson and Derrick Wilson received publicity for their ability to be the mature voice of the players, and everybody was waiting patiently for the arrival of Luke Fischer. Nobody was scrambling to stick a microphone in front of Johnson or constructing feature stories about his life.
It is easy to forget about Johnson. The soft-spoken guard is trying to have his play on the court do most of the talking this season. While he has had dismal performances against Wisconsin and Ohio State (combined 2-for-12 from the field), he has shown flashes of his range such as when he shot 10-for-16 from the floor against Arizona State.
As a pure outside shooter, Johnson has been affected by the lack of potent big men on Marquette’s roster. Opponents have been able to play Johnson tight instead of having to allocate their resources to stopping a force in the post.
In the three games since Luke Fischer’s arrival, Johnson has had three of his four best offensive performances this season. Now that Marquette possesses a weapon that can score on the low block, opposing guards have sagged off of Johnson and have frequently crashed the post, which has allowed the sophomore to take an incredible amount of uncontested shots.
While his offensive evolution has been immensely disregarded, the part of his game that is overlooked the most is his defense. The Wilsons receive a prodigious amount of praise for their magnificent defense, but Johnson has also been stellar on that side of the court this season.
According to Basketball Reference, Johnson is tied for second on the team in DRtg with 98.3, which is an advanced metric to pinpoint how many points a player allows per 100 possession. This statistic is a way to measure an individual’s defensive performance compared to his teammates. While he may be one of the youngest on the team, he has proven to be a seasoned asset for a coach that preaches defense.
Johnson has come a long way from being the second to last person off the bench last season. He is evolving into a steady contributor on both ends of the floor. During a season in which Marquette is bound to not make the NCAA tournament, it is the little victories of development that can be pointed out and cherished. Eighteen months after joining the program, it is now time for everybody to begin to notice the player Johnson is becoming.