Jajuan Johnson's Long Journey To The NCAA Tournament
March 16, 2017
GREENVILLE, S.C. – When Jajuan Johnson arrived at Marquette, he figured he’d be headed to the NCAA tournament every year.
And who could have blamed him? The Golden Eagles were coming off of an Elite Eight appearance -- and Johnson, a highly rated recruit, was expected to help them stay on that level.
Instead, Johnson would have to wait until his senior year.
And now that he’s finally here?
“Words really can’t describe it, because I’ve been waiting four years to get here,” Johnson said. “It’s just a blessing. You know what it takes, and you know how hard you worked to get here.”
Johnson and Luke Fischer are the two seniors on Marquette’s roster, and graduate student Katin Reinhardt is in his final year of eligibility. Although Reinhardt is the only Marquette player with NCAA tournament experience, all three are being counted on to help guide the young players at one of the most pressure-filled – and exciting – times in their careers.
“They’ve played at the highest level for the past four years, so their leadership and guidance is going to be something that’s really important for us,” freshman Markus Howard said.
Johnson has taken several lessons away from his time as a student-athlete, on and off the court. He came to Marquette as a highly regarded recruit out of Memphis, with all the accolades and pressure that come along with such labels. But he didn’t get much playing time as a freshman, and then he and his teammates had to adjust to a coaching change.
“It hit the heart a little bit,” Johnson said of former coach Buzz Williams’ departure. “It took me a while to get over, to be honest.”
With new Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski juggling a short bench in 2014-15, Johnson played 21 minutes a game as a sophomore but was inconsistent.
“I think any time there’s transition and a new coach comes in, and the guy that recruited you and told you he was going to be there left, there’s some trust issues,” Wojciechowski said. “And it takes a while to kind of work through those things. But JJ’s had a really good career. We wouldn’t be in the position of playing in the NCAA tournament if he wasn’t on our team, and I’m proud of the growth and improvement he’s made.”
Johnson began to realize his potential last season, when he was voted the team’s most improved player. This year, he has in many respects become the player people expected him to be, even if he describes his season as only “alright.”
Johnson has 57 steals, third-most among BIG EAST players. Thanks to his explosive athleticism, those steals often lead to transition opportunities. And Johnson is doing his part on the glass, averaging 4 rebounds per game.
“You’ve just got to go down there and get dirty sometimes,” Johnson said. “Help your big men out.”
He’s hitting 36.7 percent from 3-point range – which might get more attention if he didn’t play on a team filled with deep shooters, including teammates Howard (54.9 percent, best in NCAA Division I) and Andrew Rowsey (45.4 percent)
“I think JJ’s made great strides, from the time I started as a coach at Marquette until now,” Wojciechowski said. “I think he’s grown at an incredible level, both as a player and as a person. And that’s what you get in the business for.”
How excited is he to hit the court on Friday?
“I can’t wait,” Johnson said. “Especially watching the games today, I can’t wait to get out there and experience it.”
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