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Billy Reed: Duke’s Jalen Johnson, 2/3-and-doner, a perfect candidate for the times for Player of the Year

No matter which team wins the NCAA men’s D-I basketball tournament, my vote for Player of the Year will go to Jalen Johnson. Yes, I’m talking about the most touted recruit in Duke coach Mike Krzyewski’s freshman class.

No college player symbolizes the time in which we live than Johnson, and that is not a good thing. Everybody knew he was a one-and-done player when he came to Durham, but who knew that he would be a 2/3-and-doner?

The Blue Devils (11-10) have played 21 games, but Johnson appeared in 13, eight as a starter, before abruptly quitting the team on Feb. 15 of this year. His career, if you want to call it that, lasted exactly 80 days, or about as long as it takes Lindsey Graham to give a speech.

Upon his leaving, Johnson issued a perfunctory statement about how he loved Duke and his teammates and blah, blah, blah. It was as believable as the baseless idea that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

Like Trump, in fact, Johnson cares about nobody but himself. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim caught a lot of flak by saying the Blue Devils would be better without him. He was right, regardless of the record, because there is no longer a problem in the locker room.

Johnson simply lacks character, and that will not go unnoticed during the NBA draft. He may be picked high because of his athletic potential, but selfish players don’t cut it on the best teams. I would like to hear Coach Gregg Popovich of San Antonio expound on this.

In his 13 games at Duke, Johnson averaged 11.2 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, and 0.2 assists. Those are OK numbers, but they hardly are spectacular. Several games, Johnson was missing in action, either from alleged injuries or lack of effort. The NBA team that drafts him will be rolling the dice.

I have no idea if the Johnson debacle will make Krzyzewski rethink his recruiting philosophy but I hope it does. I love Duke and Mike, and not only because my older daughter Amy and son-in-law Rob graduated from there in 1994.

At Duke, athletics were never more important than academics, and that’s the way it should be – but isn’t – at every university in the nation. Old-school guys loved Duke for proving an institution could, indeed, have it both ways provided it hired the right administrators, professors, and coaches.

But then Kentucky hired John Calipari in 2009, and he quickly became the guru of the one-and-done. He had taken both UMass and Memphis to the Final Four, but both those appearances were vacated for various NCAA rules violations that were never pinned on Calipari personally.

At UK, where championship banners have long been more valued than academic degrees, nobody had any problem with Calipari signing an eight-year, $31.65 contract and becoming Mr. One-And-Done. That was especially true after four of his first six teams went to the NCAA Final Four, the 2012 squad winning the national title.

At Duke, some donors and fans were afraid that their program would suffer unless Coach K would change his recruiting and go after the one-and-doners. After much soul-searching, I’m sure, he finally made the change, and Duke began getting some one-and-doners who also were being recruited by Calipari.

He won his five NCAA title in 2015, three years after Calipari’s first, but the one-and-done phase of college hoops was fading and traditional recruiting methods making a comeback. Since ’15, the championship has been Villanova (twice), Virginia, and North Carolina. If I recall correctly, none was dependent on one-and-doners.

It’s more important that Coach K go back to his old ways than Calipari, because of the place where he coaches. Duke always should be a special place that stands for doing things the right way in all respects. That includes basketball recruiting philosophy.

I have no idea what Johnson has been doing since he left Duke or where he will go in the NBA draft. He has a lot of talent, but also a lot of baggage. But he has given up a scholarship to one of America’s best universities for money, glory, and little else.

I’m sure Donald Trump would join me in supporting Johnson as one of the poster children for his new American dream. Nobody else is better suited to be the Player of the Year for 2021.

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