COVID-19 changed Johnson's mind about seeking NBA input

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- If you have searched long and hard without success for one positive factor in Louisville's high NCAA Tournament aspirations being sidelined by the novel coronavirus, I have uncovered one, courtesy of David Johnson.


Louisville's 6-foot-5 guard is generally considered a future pro prospect, and there was some  suspicion that he might even test the NBA waters following his freshman season when he flashed occasional signs of that potential.


Johnson revealed Tuesday that he considered asking the NBA for feedback on his draft status, which consists of a report card-like listing of a player's strengths and weaknesses and suggests areas for improvement. But COVID-19 and cancellation of the NCAA Tournament made him  rethink his game plan.


Thus, the Cardinals didn't have to worry about the slim chance that the Trinity High School product would hear enough good things to convince him he should prematurely end his college career.


"I thought about it, but I was unsure of the whole situation because of what was going on," Johnson said during a teleconference with the media. "I wasn't educated on all that, so I decided -- I mean, I didn't want to put my name out there without any knowledge of what's going on."


Would his NBA decision have been different without the coronavirus? Would he at least have gotten feedback?


"Yes, I believe so," he said.


Instead, Johnson had to be content with grading himself and coming up with offseason goals on his own, with the help of coach Chris Mack and his staff.


"David had some tremendous moments as a freshman," Mack said last month. "But at the same time he had some freshman-like moments that we're hoping disappear and that he works really hard over the summer to correct."


Johnson got off to a slow start last season because he was still recovering from July 30 surgery on his left shoulder. He didn't play in the first four games, then logged only 30 minutes in the next eight contests. He then began earning more playing time and had a breakout game on Jan. 18 in UofL's 79-73 upset win at No. 3 Duke, getting 19 points and seven assists while hitting 8-of-12 shots.


Over the last 15 games of the season, Johnson averaged 8.9 points, 4.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game while making 49.5 percent of his field goals (55-of-111). He was the ACC assists leader among freshmen in conference games, averaging 3.8.


"I think it was a pretty up and down year," Johnson said. "I started off kind of doing okay and then I went into a little slump and then I had a few good games. I feel like I was up and down the majority of the season just because I was trying to adjust to everything as I went on, which is pretty tough to do.


"I've watched some film from the past season and I've talked to the coaches and they told me what I need to improve on. I feel like that's getting in better shape, getting my body stronger, improving my shooting, and becoming more of vocal leader on the floor now that I'm with all my classmates (sophomores) and I'm a little bit more experienced.


"I think my role for next year is I have to be a lot better than I was this year. More in control and being more of Coach Mack when Coach Mack isn't there."


Although campus facilities are closed, Johnson said he has access to a gym where he can lift weights, shoot and do "whatever I need to do to stay on top of my game."


Johnson says he is over the disappointment of not being able to play in his first NCAA Tournament, where UofL (24-7, 15-5 ACC, No. 8 NET, No. 14 AP) was projected as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed.


"It was kind of a tough pill to swallow, but I guess everything happens for a reason," he said. "So we have to get over it and look forward to next season."


So what's Johnson's early appraisal of the Cards' 2021 prospects?


"I think next year's team is going to be really fun to watch," he said. "We have really good chemistry off the court, and that's where it starts. Once we get together and we're doing all the things Coach Mack has us doing on the court, it will be a lot easier to learn about each other."


A couple of early predictions provide a clue as to expectations for Louisville next season. ESPN guru Joe Lunardi's bracket -- updated Tuesday -- has the Cards as a No. 6 seed (Kentucky is a four-seed). Lunardi's top four seeds are Gonzaga, Virginia, Villanova and Baylor.


Bart Torvik, who operates a college basketball analytics website, has also posted his ratings for the 2021 campaign and he ranks UofL No. 32 (UK is No. 24). Torvik has four ACC teams in his Top-25 -- Virginia No. 3, Duke 15, North Carolina 16 and Florida State 17 -- with Miami a near-miss at  No. 26. Torvik's No. 1 team is Texas.

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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