JOHNSON OPTS FOR ‘PURPLE' SHIRT

JOHNSON OPTS FOR ‘PURPLE' SHIRT

MANHATTAN, Kan. - He may not be starting but D.J. Johnson is making an early impact on the Kansas State basketball team in his freshman season. The Wildcats next play on Monday and Tuesday in the Preseason NIT in a field that also includes Lamar, Alabama-Huntsville and North Texas.

When Darrell Jerome Johnson Jr – call him D.J. – decided to be Bruce Weber's first recruit at Kansas State, the best guess was that this 2012-13 season would be a redshirt year.

Now, fast forward from this past April to today in the first week of the season and the 6-foot-8 250-pounder is solidly in his Purple and White No. 50.

It was in Brazil in August that Weber was impressed with … no, not necessary how well Johnson played, but how hard the 19-year-old play did catch his eye. Still, redshirting Johnson was the strong consideration.

Steady progress continued in the weight room and during individual workouts leading into the exhibition games earlier this month when K-State defeated Washburn, and then Emporia State, with Johnson being the leading scorer with 27 points, and rebounder with 16.

He followed that up on Friday in the official opening win over North Dakota, 85-52. Johnson played 16 minutes off the bench, scoring four points, but also snagging nine rebounds (six offensive) and blocking four shots.

"That made it pretty tough (to redshirt)," chuckled Weber of Johnson's play in the exhibition games. "Plus, he's done it in practice, too. Our question was whether he could play like that in games. He has a lot to learn, but he comes to the gym every day, he's happy to be here and he's playing with a great deal of energy."

Weber added, "He came to us with a good body, but he's put 15 pounds on and now he's starting to learn how to use that body in sealing people of and getting the right angles that will produce easy scores." Weber and Johnson both understand that patience is a necessity with Johnson, who only played AAU basketball in the summer, and then those 20 or so games from December into early-March.

"I played on pretty good football teams that normally made it into the playoffs, which meant that I would have only three or four practices before the first basketball game," said Johnson, a product of Parkway North High School in St. Louis.

In football as a defensive end, Johnson had the talent to be recruited by Colorado State, Kent State and Akron, but also the basketball skills to firsts be headed to Virginia Tech before changing his mind to join the Wildcats.

"I really liked Virginia Tech, but it was a 10-hour drive and a four-hour flight from home and that bothered me," said Johnson, who has the musical skills to play the piano and is studying to be a pharmacist. "I knew coach Lowery (Chris, KSU's associate head coach and former Southern Illinois head coach) from recruiting when I was younger. I thought he was trustworthy and I loved it here on my visit."

Upon signing Johnson in late-April, Weber said, "He has tremendous physical gifts, including the ability to defend the rim and be a really good shot blocker. We like his toughness and workmanlike attitude from having played both football and basketball. He also hails from a strong high school basketball area in St. Louis, which we hope will become a strong base for our recruiting efforts."

Growing up in St. Louis, Johnson admitted to being somewhat of a Missouri fan, and did have recruiting interest from the Tigers, but never a scholarship offer.

As a prepster, Johnson was a three-year starter. As a senior, he averaged 16 points on 65 percent shooting, plus snagged 12 rebounds per game and five blocked shots.

"I have a lot to learn, but I think I can play at this level," said Johnson. "My game is starting to come together. I found out quickly that everybody is good here, but I expected that. I just have to learn how to play hard each time down the floor and not take any plays off."

As for what he does best, Johnson paused, and then answered, "I want to be known as a rebounder and someone who plays hard."

Oh yes, Johnson smiles at the notion he could play football for Kansas State: "I was a decent player in high school. Let's leave it at that."

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