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JaJuan Johnson might prefer not to stay in Fort Wayne for long, but while he's here he'll carry a heavy load for the Mad Ants
Johnson, the former Purdue University standout, was taken by the Ants with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Development League draft Friday night.
“He gives us a long, athletic big man that really runs the floor,” Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. “I'm excited at what he does at the defensive end of the floor as much as at the offensive end of the floor.”
Johnson spent last season, his rookie year in the pros, with the Boston Celtics, playing in 36 games and putting up modest stats in modest minutes. At Purdue, he was a vital cog on some of the school's best teams, averaging 20.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game as a senior.
Ticknor believes the 6-foot-10 Johnson will stretch opponents' defenses with his ability to score from inside and outside, and could become a nice duo with 6-10 Tommy Smith, a veteran acquired earlier in the week.
“The way he gets up and down the floor might be my favorite part of JaJuan's game,” Ticknor said. “He can trail and hit jump shots and he can get out and lead the break and finish strong.”
Johnson's background at Purdue is also a plus. Ticknor said Purdue players always enter the league fundamentally sound on both offense and defense. The year of working with the Celtics has also made Johnson a better player, Ticknor said. Johnson was traded during the offseason to the Houston Rockets, but was released at the end of training camp.
“We'll talk with him next week on what he needs to do to get to the next level and stick, and we'll go to work on getting him there,” Ticknor said. “He's open to being here and committed to getting better.”
The Ants' other draft picks Friday were 6-6 forward Dominic Cheek (Villanova), 6-8 forward Lenny Daniel (Cal State Northridge), 6-5 guard Darryl Partin (Boston), 6-7 forward Darnell Dodson (Southern Mississippi), 6-10 center Bernard Toombs (Troy), 6-7 forward Jason Warren (Missouri Western), 6-0 guard Dante Williams (East Tennessee State) and 6-6 forward Bryant Austin (Indiana Tech).
Earlier Friday, the Ants announced two trades: Their top rookie from last year, Cameron Jones, was traded to the Santa Cruz Warriors (formerly Dakota Wizards) for 6-8 forward Mike Anderson, and guard Thomas Baudinet was traded to the Canton Charge for a third-round pick.
Veterans returning to training camp, which opens Nov. 11, include Walker Russell Jr., Ron Howard, Sadiel Rojas and Sean Sonderleiter.
Beside Austin, who played at Indiana Tech in 2008-09, the local program also sent rookie Rodney Bartholomew to the D-League.
Bartholomew was picked in the fifth round by the Tulsa 66ers.
“I just think he's an untapped resource,” Indiana Tech coach Al Grushkin said. “He has three things he can do that are pretty special. One, he can offensive rebound wherever he's at. Two, he can run. Three, he has great hands.
“Rodney is one of those guys who might be that diamond in the rough.”
Former Butler standout Shelvin Mack was picked by the Maine Red Claws with the fourth pick of the first round. He'll be joined in training camp by former Indiana University guard Jeremiah Rivers, who was picked in the fifth round.
Another former Butler player, Shawn Vanzant, was a fourth-round pick with the Springfield Armor.