Weight: 220 pounds
NBA experience: Boston, 3.2 points, 1.6 rebounds
FORT WAYNE — The fact has not been lost that JaJuan Johnson was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year when he was a senior at Purdue two years ago. But being defensive can get more than a little taxing.
Ever since he was released by from the Houston Rockets training camp before the 2012-13 NBA season began, Johnson has been defending himself like a chicken thief with feathers in his pocket.
Why did you get traded from Boston?
Why did you get cut by Houston?
What are you doing in the D-League?
Are you too small to play a big forward?
Are you too big to play a small forward?
What did you do with Jimmy Hoffa?
The first-round NBA Development League draft pick of the Mad Ants bends his 6-foot-10 frame at the knees and takes a seat on a pulled-out wooden bleacher inside the dark Concordia Seminary gym, which has become his new practice facility.
ďItís life,Ē he sayswith a bit of a shrug. ďItís been this way my whole career. Iíve always had to answer questions about my size. Itís just one of those things where people looking in from the outside.
ďIím a thinner guy, but I think Iím just as strong as these other guys and just as athletic, maybe more athletic; faster. Thatís why Iím going back to the things Iím good at and Iím confident what I can do.Ē
Thatís been one of the knocks on Johnson Ė that because heís a lanky 220 pounds and could snap like a piece of kindling, he canít handle an 82-game NBA season.
And even though Boston traded the former first-round pick, Johnsonís former Celtics coach, Doc Rivers, thinks Johnson has the game to be an NBA player.
ďI know he has the talent, Iíll put it that way,Ē Rivers told the NESN website. ďI told him that this summer. Heís going to either have to pull it out of himself or heíll be there (in the D-League), but I do believe that he has NBA talent. I hope he makes it.Ē
There seems to be a consensus among coaches when it comes to Johnsonís ability.
Talent, heís got. You donít become the Big Ten Player of the Year, average 20 points and nearly nine rebounds at Purdue without skills.
But when it comes to drive and desire and the intangibles for which there are no statistics, the professional basketball jury is still out.
ďEven though he played 30 games in the NBA last year, most of it was garbage time,Ē Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. ďSo he really hasnít played in a year and a half. We just need to get him out here playing every day.
ďHe needs to be more aggressive offensively and quit settling for jump shots all the time. He needs to relentlessly run the floor. He canít take plays off, and he has a tendency to not sprint. When he doesnít use his God-given athleticism, he might as well be 6-5. There arenít many players his size who can run and jump and do the things he does.Ē
Itís Ticknorís way of saying Johnson has to play like heís 6-10.
And now, the man known as J.J. is back to playing defense, and the one he is defending his himself.
ďEvery level that Iíve ever played at Iíve had to prove myself,Ē Johnson said. ďThe NBAís no different. Obviously I have to put a lot more time in and keep working. Iím really confident that everythingís going to work out. I havenít lost faith. I know what I can do on the court. Itís really just finding a good fit and a good situation for myself.Ē