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After ‘up and down year’ freshman year, Louisville’s Johnson excited about upcoming season

By Kenny Klein
University of Louisville

University of Louisville guard David Johnson reflected on his freshman season and spoke about what he needs to improve upon during an off-season news conference with local media.

“I think it was a pretty up and down year,” said Johnson about his freshman year. “I started off kind of doing okay and then I went into a little slump. Then I had a few good games and I felt like I was up and down the majority of the season. I was trying to adjust 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 a lot of people from our coaching staff and those who are in my circle. They talked to me on what I need to improve on, and I feel like that’s getting in better shape, getting my body stronger, improving on shooting, and being more vocal, becoming more of a vocal leader on the floor. I think my role for next year is that I have to be a lot better than I was this year, in more control and being more of Coach (Chris) Mack when Coach Mack is not there.”

David Johnson led the Cardinals with a season-high 19 points, seven assists and three steals at then-No. 3 Duke on Jan. 18. (Photo courtesy of Louisville)

During 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 Atlantic Coast Conference assists leader among freshmen in league games, averaging 3.8 assists, 7.9 points and 3.4 rebounds.

The 6-5, 210-pound hometown product from Louisville, Johnson missed nearly four months leading up to the season, including the Cardinals’ first four games, after recovering from surgery on his left shoulder on July 30. He worked his way into a prominent role on the team for the last half of the season, including a starting role in four of the last five games.

Johnson scored 37 points in his first 12 games before totaling 134 points in the last 15 games.  

Johnson, who is second among returning scorers for the Cardinals next season (6.3 ppg) and is the leader in assists (2.8 apg), has had access to a gym to help stay in shape and work on his game. “I can lift there, I can shoot … whatever I need to do to stay on top of my game,” said Johnson.

Johnson said he and his teammates have made the most from their time away during the pandemic shutdown. “I think we had some people that needed this time (to heal from injuries),” said Johnson. “But it’s also going to show, when we come back, how much we did on our own, because we won’t have that much time that we usually would because of everything that’s going on” when the Cardinals return to campus to prepare for next season.

Looking ahead, Johnson is optimistic about next season.

“I think we’re gonna be really fun to watch,” said Johnson. “We have a really good chemistry off the court and I think that’s where it starts. Once we get together and we’re doing all the things that coach has us doing together on the court, then that’ll be a lot easier to kind of learn each other from that point on. I think it’s going to be really fun.”

David Johnson is second among returning scorers for Louisville next season (6.3 ppg) and is the leader in assists (2.8 apg).

Last season, Johnson scored at least six points in 12 of the last 15 games and handed out five or more assists in eight of the last 14 games. He was named the ACC Freshman of the Week for games Jan. 13-19, becoming the first Louisville player to earn the recognition since Jordan Nwora was honored on Feb. 12, 2018.

Johnson’s finest game of the season came on a big stage, as he led the Cardinals with a season-high 19 points, seven assists and three steals at then-No. 3 Duke on Jan. 18, adding four rebounds and three dunks.

His 19 points were the most by a Louisville player off the bench against an AP top-three ranked opponent since former All-America guard Russ Smith scored 30 points against No. 3 Kentucky in 2011.

Johnson and his teammates did not have an opportunity to compete in the postseason, as both the 2020 ACC and NCAA Tournaments were cancelled due to health concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic. He would have liked the opportunity to compete.

“I feel like everyone could say their team would have made it all the way,” said Johnson, “but I feel like my teammates and I were jelling together at the right time and we could have made a really good run. I’m really confident in saying that.”

The Cardinals (24-7, 15-5 ACC) finished the season positioned eighth in the nation in the NCAA’s NET rankings (No. 14 AP, No. 13 USA Today). It was the best overall record through 31 games for a Louisville team in six years and marked the most conference victories for the Cardinals in their six years in the ACC.

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