Pitt rolled the Rams as expected. As the game was decided early, with J.J. Moore enjoying an outstanding game, much side conversation quickly turned to the status of John Johnson.
Johnson made his displeasure at not getting any playing time on Friday — and having Coach Jamie Dixon explain it away as him being a little under the weather. It surprised few that rumors swirled over the weekend that he was planning a transfer. Now it is official that he is doing so.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he and Johnson talked several times and that he plans to help the Philadelphia native find another school. Minutes may have been hard to come by for Johnson, as this appears to be one of Dixon’s deepest teams.
“We’ve got a lot of good players and a lot of good guards,” Dixon said.
And that was the problem for Johnson. Despite his own confidence in his abilities, he isn’t as good or experienced as the guys in front of him.
I won’t say that I loved Johnson’s overall game. I flat out hated his defense. He would overextend, leaning too far himself trying to slap the ball away from opposing players without any thought to the situation, size, or skill of his foe. He got away with this in the non-con last year against lower-level talent, but getting into Big East play with bigger, smarter, better guards he was exploited. They could spin away from him and get room to drive to the basket or find an open man when someone had to help as Johnson tried to recover.
Yet, he was a fun, confident shooter who had no fear taking a shot from anywhere on the court at any time (for good and bad). He was an exciting player when his shot was on. He could be streaky with his shot at time, but that figured to improve as he matured. Eventually learning to pass more. But John Johnson was never going to be a primary piece. He could have developed into a vital cog in time, but he simply wasn’t satisfied with that.
The truth is that Travon Woodall is better than him and has more experience. James Robinson is bigger, better and fits the team’s offense and defense much better than Johnson. Trey Zeigler as well. Even Cam Wright, offensively challenged as he may be, plays much better in Pitt’s game as the emphasis returns to working the ball inside with much more frequency. Add in the fact that next year Pitt adds point guard Josh Newkirk, and Johnson won’t exactly see a growing role on the team.
This is probably a good situation for both sides. John Johnson wants to be more of an impact player. He wants more minutes and a primary role with this team, and that won’t happen at Pitt. For Pitt, it obviously frees up a scholarship for next year, but it also frees up minutes on what looks like a very deep squad.
It seems clear that Coach Dixon isn’t too concerned.
Johnson’s departure could mean more playing time for Durand Johnson, a redshirt freshman who scored eight points in his college debut against the Rams. It also means Trey Zeigler will be playing more point guard. Zeigler ran the point for the final five minutes or so after Dixon pulled his starters.
“Zeigler has played the point,” Dixon said. “He’s picked it up really well. He’s a great leader that the guys respect and trust. That gives us some real versatility. I think that’s something we can really use to our benefit this year.”
Zeigler had seven points and one assist. All of his points came after halftime.
Senior point guard Tray Woodall was asked about John Johnson’s departure, and he said the following: “Honestly, I’ve been here for a while, I always knew Pitt’s not for everybody. Some guys like it here but just don’t feel comfortable. Honestly, it’s just not for everybody.”
In the Fordham game, not only did J.J. Moore thrive as he embraces a spark-plug role off the bench and play at both forward spots. Durand Johnson got his first minutes and baskets. He got 8 points in 10 minutes as he can play both shooting guard and at the wing. Adding more size on the perimeter. The potential length on the court when desired this season is something unseen in the Dixon era.
Pitt went 10 deep in the rotation, and everyone had at least 10 minutes of playing time. Obviously the bench will shorten and minutes will shift as the competition improves and the season gets deeper. But right now, Dixon is giving everyone a chance to earn their playing time and see action.
The first test comes tonight. A good, experienced Lehigh team. How does Pitt contain a dynamic guard like C.J. McCollum and a solid inside player like Gabe Knutson? How does their perimeter defense do against a team that has shot better than 40% on threes to start the season (19-45 in the first two games)?
Pitt has handled the lower tiers of the NEC and A-10 with ease. Now it’s stepping up to the best of the Patriot League.