Durand Johnson knew a good situation when he saw one. With zero starters from last season returning, and with nearly 95 percent of the team's scoring gone, St. John's needed players for 2015-16 who could score the rock. Sensing an opportunity to step in right away and add some offensive punch, Johnson announced that he was transferring from Pittsburgh to the Red Storm in April.
How he got here
Johnson's signing was an important milestone for Head Coach Chris Mullin and his staff as it established St. John's as a destination for high-profile transfers. Johnson was the program's second graduate transfer, joining Missouri State guard Ron Mvouika, and he was the fifth player overall to commit to Mullin.
Since Johnson earned his degree at Pitt and had one year of eligibility remaining, he can play right away and figures to start at small forward for the Red Storm.
"With Coach Mullin coming back and the opportunity that I had to come here, play with new groups of guys in a new situation, I just wanted to show the world what I got," Johnson said at Big East Media Day.
Red Storm Associate Head Coach Barry Rohrssen had a relationship with Johnson since their days at Pittsburgh, and was a major reason Johnson chose SJU over West Virginia. The two began talking after Johnson announced his intent to transfer with the decision becoming official after he visited campus.
"Durand is an experienced player at the high-major level," Mullin said. "He is versatile, plays with energy and can be an impactful scorer. He has the ability to make significant contributions for our team on both ends of the court next season."
What he brings to the table
While Johnson will be counted on to provide the lion's share of buckets this coming season, he's managed to play only a season and a half in his four-year collegiate career after redshirting 2011-12, suffering a season-ending injury midway through 2013-14, and being suspended for unspecified reasons for the 2014-15 campaign. St. John's represents a fresh start and a chance to redeem the high expectations placed on him coming out of high school.
"I focused on my team and helped them get better," Johnson said of the year he was suspended. He practiced, but couldn't play for the Panthers. "I focused on my own game as well; doing extra work, focusing on school and doing what I had to do off the court. It helped me mature and it also allowed me to better myself for this year's team."
Johnson lettered for two years at Pitt where he appeared in 47 games and averaged 5.8 points per contest. He shot 41.0 percent from the field, 77.6 percent at the free-throw line and sank 47 3-pointers during his time with the Panthers.
The 6-foot-6 wing from Baltimore averaged 8.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists and nearly one steal in 19 minutes per game while shooting 85.3 percent from the line in 2013-14, before a torn ACL ended his season after 16 games. He scored double-figures eight times, including a career-high 17-point effort versus Maryland on Jan. 6, 2014.
"Obviously, his experience shows," Mullin said. "He has confidence and will probably be one of our leaders. His energy is infectious in practice, he's competitive in the right way, he's a hard worker and he leads by example."
After nearly two years off the court it's going to take a while for Johnson to get his legs back, not to mention his shooting stroke. In two exhibition games Johnson's shot a combined 3-for-16 for a total of eight points. Missing starting point guard Marcus Lovett, who still hasn't been cleared by the NCAA, hasn't helped Johnson get acclimated to the SJU offense.
"I'm ready," Johnson said of his opportunity at St. John's. "Like you said I haven't played in awhile. I missed two years and I'm ready to go. Just being here [at Madison Square Garden] makes me want to lace them up and go right now. It's going to be a good year."
Though not particularly known as a talented defensive player, he is a dogged one, and will have to step his game up on that side of the floor to defend the opposition's athletic wings. Listening to Johnson it's clear he understands that's where his focus needs to be.
"When you have guys locking in on the defensive end, it goes a long way," he said. "In practice when I'm on the court I'm focused on defense because I know that's where it starts. Offensively, we have plenty of guys who can make plays and who are skilled, but it starts on the defensive end."
With 47 games of high-level collegiate experience and the maturity that comes with being a college graduate, don't expect the bright lights of New York City to phase Johnson. He understands the daily work it takes in order to be successful, and with a team that's expected to finish at the bottom of the conference, there's only one way to go but up.
"I don't feel like there is any pressure," he said. "We come to practice every day and work hard, so I don't feel like it's solely on me. We have a bunch of good guys like Felix [Balamou] and Ron. Our freshmen are not like normal freshmen. They come in everyday with a good mindset. They know the game and they're hungry. So I feel like we're definitely going to be good as a team."