Jalen Johnson caused quite a stir in the college basketball community Monday when the Duke freshman announced he would be leaving the team, focusing on his health and preparing for the 2021 NBA Draft. Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski and his players have expressed support for Johnson, but critics have gone so far as to label him a quitter.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim seems to lean more toward the latter group. During his weekly radio show, the 76-year-old declared that Johnson was “hurting” Duke and the team is “much better now without him.”
“He was just doing some things and keeping other people from playing that are good,” Boeheim said. “They’ve had two monster wins since he’s opted out and they’re playing good basketball. They’ve got very good talent. You knew they were going to play out of this thing and now they’re playing well.”
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas heard what Boeheim (and others) had to say and felt the need to call out what he felt were “inappropriate” comments with some not-so-subtle undertones.
“The idea that somehow [Duke is] better without Jalen Johnson, I think, is patently false,” Bilas said on Friday’s “Bald Men on Campus” show. “But the other thing that disturbs me, and this is not just Jim Boeheim . . . The idea, somehow, that his family is considered a ‘camp,’ there are undertones to that, that are really disturbing. You know, [Iowa star] Luka Garza, we’ve got all these feature stories on Luka Garza and his parents, his dad working him out and being hyper-involved. Jalen Johnson has two parents, and he consulted his parents in making this decision. And his parents dealt with Duke, as did he.
“Somehow the idea that, if he really cared about his health, he’d stay at Duke Medical Center, as if this is only one thing and they don’t have doctors where he lives. If he’s opting out for his draft status, he’s supposed to stay in isolation for how it looks — I don’t buy any of that.”
Jalen Johnson does not have a “camp,” “people in his ear,” or a “posse.” He has a family. He has a mother and father helping him, with his best interests in mind, making decisions. We can differ with the decision, but the undertones of the criticism of Johnson are concerning. pic.twitter.com/icKqC9u0Cp
— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) February 19, 2021
Bilas noted that Boeheim had similarly a harsh response when former Georgetown guard James Akinjo left the program in 2019. (He eventually landed at Arizona.) Boeheim ripped Akinjo because he “wouldn’t pass the ball to anybody,” a claim that wasn’t supported by the fact that Akinjo averaged 5.1 assists over 40 games with the Hoyas. Boeheim’s assessment of Duke’s “monster wins” is also questionable, as those victories came against N.C. State and Wake Forest, two of the worst teams in the ACC.
In Bilas’ mind, there is a fair way to have a conversation about players transferring or opting out — what Boeheim did was something else.
“There are legitimate things that we can talk about,” Bilas said. “The idea, was this the best thing for his draft status? He’s going to have to answer these questions to the NBA. Maybe sticking it out and playing would be better for him. I don’t know the answer to that. We can discuss that.
“But attacking the player, I thought, was inappropriate of Jim Boeheim, and it’s been inappropriate of other commentators that have said similar things. It’s got some undertones that I don’t like at all, and I think should be called out.”
In 13 games with Duke, Johnson averaged 11.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. He is widely viewed as a potential lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
“I appreciate everything about my time at Duke,” Johnson said as part of Monday’s announcement. “Coach K, my teammates and the program have been nothing but supportive throughout this season, especially during the rehab of my foot injury. My family, Coach and I have made the decision that I should not play the remainder of this season so I can be 100 percent healthy in preparation for the NBA Draft.
“This was not easy but we feel it’s best for my future. I have nothing but love for the Brotherhood and thank my teammates and everyone associated with the program. Duke will always have a special place in my heart and will always be a part of me.”