Jalen Johnson Controversy

Jalen+Johnson+Controversy

Cooper Ams, Co-Editor

On February 15, the sports world was left in shock after star Duke forward Jalen Johnson announced that he will opt-out of the remainder of the season for the Blue Devils. Johnson announced that his reasoning behind this decision was to help heal his foot injury that he experienced earlier in the season. This reasoning, however, left Duke fans wondering if this truly was the reason he will forego the rest of the season.

 

Johnson started his highly anticipated freshman season with a 19 point and 19 rebound performance against Coppin State, leaving Duke fans feeling hopeful for the rest of the season. This hopeful feeling, however, did not last long. Duke proceeded to lose two of their next four games to Michigan State and Illinois, starting the downward spiral they have experienced over the season. During the Illinois game, Jalen Johnson appeared to injure his foot, which ultimately led to him sitting out for three games to heal his injury. This injury seemed as if it was a coincidence, but it left some wondering if Johnson may be faking his injury because of the lack of success for Duke. This wouldn’t be the first time that a Duke player or staff member tried to stop playing based on their poor performance this season, as Coach K began to push for the NCAA to stop college athletics after Duke lost two out of its first five games. However, Jalen returned to the team on January 12 when they faced Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Duke, coming off a three game winning streak in ACC play, dropped this game to the Hokies and proceeded to lose its next two games to Pitt and Louisville. Johnson contributed a large amount to the Blue Devils’ effort, but ultimately came up short. After defeating Georgia Tech and Clemson yet losing to Miami, it was time for the Blue Devils to face off against their rivals, the North Carolina Tar Heels. Johnson played a total of 25 minutes in this game while adding 14 points. While this is not a terrible statline, everyone expected Johsnon to produce more during his time on the floor. After their crushing defeat to UNC, Duke lost its second consecutive game to Notre Dame, with Jalen playing a total of 15 minutes. A trend became visible as Johnson appeared to be getting less playing time ever since the UNC game, where he played fewer minutes than he did in previous games. This past Saturday, Johnson played a total of eight minutes in Duke’s rout of NC State, leaving fans scratching their heads why Coach K wouldn’t play his highest recruit more than that.

 

The following Monday, Johnson announced his plan to opt-out of the season due to his injury. As a Duke fan, I don’t necessarily believe that it had everything to do with his nagging foot injury. I personally believe that due to Duke’s mediocre record, Johnson did not want to play for the remainder of the season, because he did not want to be associated with this team. Whether or not the decision was based on his injury, Johnson will not be able to finish the season for Duke, missing out on ACC Tournament play and possibly NCAA Tournament play. As the news spread, many critics of Johnson were vocal about how Duke was a better team without him. Coach Jim Boheim of Syracuse spoke his ideas about the event, saying how Duke seemed to be a better team without him. Despite the drama caused by these statements, Duke proceeded to win four straight games after Johnson opted out, including a critical win against #7 Virginia, which helped keep the Blue Devils’ tournament hopes alive. As March Madness is quickly approaching, Duke is still in the mix to snag one of the last four seeds in the tournament. The situation in Durham will be interesting over the next two weeks, as Duke looks to avoid missing the tournament for the first time since 1995.