Durand Johnson has not stepped foot on the court for an official game since Jan. 11, 2014. He hasn’t recorded a single statistic in over a year.
But now, Johnson’s time has come and he’s ready to finally begin the last chapter of his college basketball career.
After back-to-back tumultuous seasons at the University of Pittsburgh, Johnson has a clean slate as St. John’s University’s newest swingman.
“I’ve had a lot of time to work on my game,” Johnson said.
“I worked on my ball handling and getting my body in shape for the season. I’m ready to go.”
Johnson was injured while driving to the basket against Wake Forest.
A redshirt sophomore at the time, he was forced to miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee. Johnson’s season was over after just 16 games.
During Johnson’s sophomore season, he was taking on the role of Pitt’s sixth man, averaging 8.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists and nearly one steal per game. Johnson ranked second on the team with 23 three-pointers, while shooting 40.5 percent from the field and leading the squad with an 85.3 percent free-throw shooting mark.
Prior to the start of his junior season, Johnson averaged 13 points in two exhibition games. Finally healthy and ready to play, Johnson’s return to the court would be postponed, as he was suspended for the entire 2014-15 season, for an undisclosed violation of school policy.
Johnson was able to remain with the program and practice with the team but was not able to play in any games.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon gave no explanation for the suspension, but said in a statement he’s encouraging Johnson to “make the most of this year personally, academically and athletically.”
Having played just 47 games in two seasons, Johnson’s season-long suspension last fall was particularly hard to take.
“I would say it humbled me a lot. It truly did,” Johnson said. “I actually learned from it. It’s not what you did, it’s how you react and how you come back from it and leave your mark. I just tried to stay positive and keep my eyes on what I want to do and where I want to go in life.”
The 6’6” guard/forward from Baltimore will enter St. John’s as a graduate student with one year of eligibility left, cleared to play for the 2015-16 season.
Johnson is the top candidate to lead the team in scoring this season. There is still some unknown regarding the 23 year-old who hasn’t played a college basketball game in nearly two years.
There is one thing that is known. Johnson is the only transfer player coming to St. John’s with experience competing in the Big East conference.
In his first year playing as a Pittsburgh Panther, Johnson averaged 13.6 minutes and 6.3 points against current BIG EAST members (Georgetown, Villanova, Providence, DePaul, Seton Hall, Marquette, St. John’s). Johnson’s best performance in BIG EAST play was when he set a season-high with 13 points, shooting 3-of-6 from 3-point range at Villanova.
In the Big East pre-season poll, Villanova was the unanimous pick to win the 2015-16 Big East regular-season. St. John’s was picked to finish in last place.
Three years ago, when Pitt competed in the BIG EAST, Johnson played Villanova twice, defeating them each time. Johnson scored 13 points off the bench in the January 16, 2013 58-43 victory and scored 9 points off the bench in the March 3 73-64 win.
Johnson’s looking forward to all the Big East matchups, but there’s one he’s particularly excited for.
“We played Villanova twice when I was at Pitt,” Johnson said.
“We had those guys numbered. We won both games and I played well. I’m just ready to get back in the Big East and show those guys. Don’t count me out, I’m back.”
Johnson doesn’t believe in the pre-season polls. “I believe in our guys on this team and that’s all that matters.”
Recruited by associate head coach Barry “Slice” Rohrssen, Rohrssen was at Pittsburgh with Johnson and their relationship was a major reason for him picking St. John’s.
“I had a relationship with Coach Slice,” Johnson said.
“He was at Pittsburgh for a year when I was there and when he found out I was transferring, he called me right away with Coach Mullin on the phone.”
Coach Slice and Coach Mullin gave their pitch to Johnson. “They were telling me that this year’s team is going to be new but it’s a great group of guys. They told me that there is a want and need for me.”
Johnson said the conversation didn’t last long. “I said, ‘Why not, Coach?’ I couldn’t turn down the deal.”
“Being here, I already feel like this [coaching staff] is a family. I feel confident that I can trust these guys.”
The Red Storm lost 96% of their team’s scoring and 92% of the team’s rebounding from last season. One of those key scorers was Sir’ Dominic Pointer, drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 53rd pick of the 2015 NBA draft. Pointer is now a member of the Canton Charge of the NBA Development League, the affiliate team of Cleveland.
Pointer was named to the All Big East Second Team after averaging 13.7 points – third on the team, 7.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Pointer was awarded the 2015 Haggerty Award, given to the All-Metropolitan New York Division I men’s college basketball player of the year. He was also awarded Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year after his senior season.
With only one inch and seven pounds differentiating Pointer and Johnson, there’s no question Johnson will be forced to fill Pointer’s absence.
“I know that Sir’ Dominic Pointer was a good player last year,” Johnson said. “But that doesn’t scare me, I’m ready to step up and do my part. I want to help lead this team back to the dance.”
While playing at Pitt, Johnson was one of the team’s top long-distance shooters and converted 37.9 percent of his attempts beyond the 3-point arc. Now at St. John’s, Johnson has been focused on improving his all-around shooting efforts.
“I’ve been working on my all-around game,” Johnson said. “I’ve worked on my midrange game and driving to the basket.”
“I don’t want to be labeled as a 3-point shooter. I want to have the all-around package.”
Johnson’s basketball journey has not been conventional in any sense, but his journey has led him to this: one more shot at showing the basketball world what he’s got.