UofL sophomore guard Johnson leaving early for NBA draft

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Homegrown product David Johnson is leaving town, keeping his word on a statement he made to Louisville coach Chris Mack two years ago before he had played a single minute for the Cardinals.


Probably to no one's surprise, Johnson, a sophomore guard, announced Wednesday that he is foregoing his last two seasons of collegiate eligibility to enter the 2021 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-5 former Trinity High School star, is expected to hire an agent, explaining in a statement released by UofL that playing in the NBA was "a dream of mine since I could remember."


Johnson showed marked improvement from his first to his second season with the Cardinals. He doubled his scoring and rebounding averages as a sophomore and became a solid defender while averaging 12.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He also developed into more of an outside shooting threat, raising his 3-point percentage from .217 as a freshman to .386. this past season.


"First, I’d like to thank God for putting me in this position I’m in today," Johnson said in his statement. "Without Him, this wouldn’t be possible. To my family, teammates, friends, and coaches, thank you for the endless support from the day I started this journey 15 years ago. To the University of Louisville, thank you for taking me in with open arms and trusting my abilities as a young man. To the city of Louisville, the love, support, and encouragement you've given has been imperative to my growth as 'The Hometown Kid!' I thank you all from every word you've shared and everything you've done, I will always hold dear to my heart while showing appreciation to you.


“It has been a dream of mine to play in the NBA since I could remember and now it’s time to take the next step to get there. My family and I value your continued prayers, love, and support as I forego my remaining years of college eligibility and enter the 2021 NBA Draft!"


Most draft predictions forecast Johnson as a mid-to-late second round pick. A notable exception is NBC Sports, which lists him at No. 17, describing him in part as "a solid, big guard with nice scoring potential and a smooth game. He plays through contact and is a quality rebounder as well."


The next highest prediction is from USA Today, which ranks Johnson at No. 38, calling him "an effective slasher and playmaker" and adding that "his assists percentage against Top-50 opponents (42.6) and Top-100 teams (41.7) are both the highest among all high-major freshmen by a large margin. He is the type player who regularly flirts with a triple-double."


Here's how Johnson stacks up in other lists: Sports Illustrated, No. 45; The Athletic, No. 49; NBA Draft Room, No. 49. He is not listed in the 60-player, two-round draft on July 29 by either ESPN or CBS Sports.


“Two years ago, I had David in my office a couple months after his shoulder surgery,” UofL coach Chris Mack said in a release. “It was September of his freshman year and I asked him what he was thinking in terms of playing. He looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I’m going to be here two years and then head to the NBA.’ I said, 'That’s great DJ, but I mean when do you think you’ll be healthy enough to return?’ We’ve joked about that conversation since, but he sure made good on that promise.


“DJ is a terrific player and incredible representative of the University of Louisville. I’m going to miss coaching him, but I’m happy as heck for him and his family. He’s a first-round talent and a first-class kid, and he’ll always be a Cardinal.”


Johnson's best game of the pandemic-shortened season came in a 74-58 win over Georgia Tech in the KFC Yum! Center when he scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and also hit a career-best six 3-pointers (in 11 attempts). In what proved to be his final game in a Cardinal uniform he got 24 points and 11 rebounds in a 70-56 loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament.


Johnson's departure leaves UofL with 12 scholarship players, one shy of its limit -- Dre Davis, JJ Traynor, Jae'Lyn Withers, Samuell Williamson, Quinn Slazinski, Gabe Wiznitzer, Marshall grad transfer Jarrod West, Miami transfer Matt Cross, Florida transfer Noah Locke, junior college standout El Ellis and true freshmen Mike James and Roosevelt Wheeler.


Grad transfer guard Carlik Jones has said he will test his standing for the NBA draft, but won't hire an agent, leaving open the possibility of returning for an extra season.

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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