Duke freshman Jalen Johnson has opted out of the rest of the regular season.
The most heralded freshmen in Duke’s class this year, Johnson opened the season with a 19 point, 19 rebound game in the opener. He was third on the team in scoring at 11.2 ppg, second in rebounding (6.1) and third in assists (2.2).
Johnson missed three games in late December and early January with a foot injury, although there were red flags raised by some at the time. Stadium’s national basketball reporter Jeff Goodman said at the time that he was “not buying” the story that Johnson injured his foot and, when discussing the opt-out decision on social media, referred to the “foot injury” in quotes.
The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie also referred to it as a “reported foot injury.”
In recent games, as center Mark Williams and forward Henry Coleman have improved their production and seen their minutes increase, Johnson’s time has decreased. After starting eight of the first 10 games he played as a Blue Devil, Johnson came off the bench each of the last three games. In the last two games, against Notre Dame and UNC, he had his fewest minutes of the season, other than the four minutes he played is his first game back from the injury.
Johnson logged just eight minutes on Saturday against NC State, and afterward, coach Mike Krzyzewski discussed the freshman’s playing time.
“Today – you saw the game – it was really physical,” Krzyzewski said. “We had him in there a couple times and he was knocked back. I would’ve put him back in, but Jaemyn [Brakefield] and Henry and those guys – it didn’t knock them back. Jalen will keep playing. That’s the thing that all freshmen have to learn. Mark now has learned that. The physicality of this game is huge. I have confidence in him. We’re going to keep working with him and he’ll have opportunities. Today, going in another direction worked out well for us, and getting Mark more minutes. Mark, I think he played 27 minutes. Playing the two big guys – at one time, Matt [Hurt] and Jalen were the two bigs, so if there’s a big guy playing like Mark is, you’ve got to play him. Mark and Matt, they were really good today. So, it’s nothing against any kid. It’s just that sometimes, some kids are better in a ballgame.”
ZagsBlog reported that Johnson had cleaned out his locker on Monday morning and left the team, and other outlets said that there were off court and locker room clashes between Johnson and the Blue Devil coaches.
A statement from Duke said that Johnson is leaving to prepare for the NBA Draft, which he will enter following the season.
“I appreciate everything about my time at Duke,” said Johnson. “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.”
“While we are encouraged by what we are seeing medically, for Jalen’s future, we believe this decision is in his best interest,” Krzyzewski said. “We are ultimately careful with every one of our players and will continue to support Jalen as he progresses toward his goal of playing professional basketball. He deserves to be fully healthy for the upcoming NBA Draft.”