Sports | February 16, 2021 4:21 pm

NBA Prospect Jalen Johnson Opts Out of Rest of Duke’s Season With Blue Devils Struggling

The star freshman came into this season as the No. 13 recruit in the country

NBA Prospect Jalen Johnson Opts Out of Rest of Duke's Season
Jalen Johnson goes to the basket against the Louisville Cardinals.
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In a move that should have Blue Devils fans seeing red, star Duke freshman Jalen Johnson is not going to play for the rest of the season and is declaring for the NBA draft, according to a release from the team.

“My family, Coach [K] 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,” Johnson said in the release. “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.”

Ranked as the No. 13 recruit in the country, Johnson missed a little over a month with a foot injury starting in mid-December but returned on January 12 against Virginia Tech and has appeared in every game since, so his decision to opt out of the rest of the 2020-21 season probably really isn’t about his health or COVID-19 concerns.

Really, it probably has to do with the Blue Devils being 8-8 on the season and being in danger of missing their first NCAA Tournament since 1995. Also likely aiding in the 19-year-old’s decision is that part of the reason Duke finds itself in such a precarious position with regard to March Madness is that Johnson has been a bit of a dud.

Still projected as a lottery pick, Johnson is only averaging 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds on the season after announcing himself with a 19-point, 19-rebound performance against Coppin State in the season opener.

One of the best debuts ever for a Duke freshman, the performance vaulted Johnson into the national spotlight and made him the top star on the country’s most high-profile team. 

Now, thanks to the opt-out, that star has fallen and it may have a big impact on Johnson’s future in the NBA.

“I don’t think it helps how he’s seen by NBA front offices in any way, shape or form,” writes The Athletic NBA draft expert Sam Vecenie. “Rightly or wrongly, there will be some skepticism about whether or not the foot injury is real. Rumors have circulated since December about its severity and about his maturity at Duke. Unfortunately for Johnson, deciding to opt-out now will be seen by some executives as him quitting on an 8-8 team because it’s not good enough to be worth his time.”

Though Johnson’s decision to forgo the season is justifiable as he is not getting paid to play, there are certainly some people in the NBA who will view his opt-out as quitting — not the best look for a young player who is already falling short of expectations.