By Joseph Staszewski
Durand Johnson didn’t go as far as calling it his team, but there is little doubt it will be.
“I’ve always had the leader mindset anyway,” the St. John’s graduate student guard said. “Living in the projects, I always wanted to lead.”
The Pittsburgh transfer and Baltimore native has already taken a major leadership role as one of the team’s veteran players. If you are looking for a kid to root for early on, or a story to cling to, then look no further than Johnson.
The 6-foot-6 guard has waited two years for his second chance. Johnson missed half of his junior season with a torn ACL and was suspended all of last year by Panthers coach Jamie Dixon for a violation of team rules. He is eager to put that behind him and for a new beginning.
“I feel like there is a point in your life where if things aren’t working out you have to move on and see what other doors open for you,” Johnson said. “I’m ready to move on now. I’m at St. John’s. I have a new team.”
He also has a fan base looking for someone new to cheer for after the graduation of D’Angelo Harrison, Sir’Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene IV from last year’s NCAA tournament team. He’s chomping at the bit to get back on the court for real and to hear the crowd roaring for him once more.
“I’m hungry to get back out there more than anything,” Johnson said. “I’m not even focusing on how it’s my last shot. I’m hungry and I am ready to go.”
That eagerness and energy has been infectious amongst his teammates. Red Storm coach Chris Mullin talked about how Johnson is using it all in the right way. He is the guy who picks up the other players when a practice is getting sluggish or sloppy. They are following his lead.
“He is competitive in the right way,” Mullin said. “He is a hard worker. He leads by example. “
Johnson is also a productive player. He averaged 8.8 points, 40.5 percent shooting from the field and a career-best 85.3 percent at the free-throw line while playing 19.8 minutes a contest as a sophomore at Pitt before his season was cut short. Putting up strong numbers for this year’s Johnnies will make him easy to root for
There are plenty of talented freshmen who will be in Queens a lot longer than Johnson. St. John’s fans will have plenty of time to cheer for them. Johnson gets one more opportunity to have the crowd behind him and a second chance that he is already making good on.