Jaylen Johnson just won't stop growing, either literally or in terms of skills. A 6-7 junior last spring, he has sprouted to 6-9, 215 pounds and now projects as a legitimate college post presence.
Back during the 2013 Michigan State playoffs, Johnson led his team deep into the tournament and began to attract notice from regional programs. The junior attracted interest from Michigan, Michigan State, Cincinnati, Iowa, Central Michigan, Iowa State and others.
He hit the travel circuit with Dorian's Pride and served notice immediately that he was prepared to tackle national competition. Newly emerged big guys always initiate a recruiting feeding frenzy, and by mid-May Johnson had enticed offers from Florida State, Maryland, Cincinnati, Miami, Oregon, Iowa State, Arizona State, Texas A&M, VCU and USC.
He attended the Pangos All-American Camp in June and continued to flourish. His performance there helped secure an offer from Louisville, which he visited unofficially that month. The Cardinals, along with Iowa State and Oregon, appeared to lead for his services.
He continued to win admirers in Las Vegas during the late summer. College coaches taking one final look largely determined he'd be a match, and Michigan State stepped forward with an offer. The frontrunning Cardinals, Cyclones and Ducks all set up official visits, and Florida State jockeyed for one as well.
But before he undertook that slate, Johnson pledged to Rick Pitino and Louisville. He projects as a tremendous fit for a Cardinal program that has thrived on hard-working big men.
Johnson's physical traits include excellent speed and leap, and those qualities translate directly into rebounds, blocks, dunks and put-backs. He has become taller and stronger over the past six months, and by his freshman season he's likely to be approximately 235 pounds. Down the road he may top the scales at 250, and his frame should be able to handle the weight easily.
But it's his intangible qualities that stand out most. All that athleticism and blossoming power would be useful in any case, but Johnson truly gets the most out of what he has. He's a warrior who competes consistently with vigor and passion, even in the darkest, dankest gym within the most desultory AAU setting. Watch him once and, however you assess his talent, you'll never question his drive.
He's also a surprising and sneaky passer both on the interior and from the high post, and his medium-range jump shot is nearing readiness for primetime.
His trajectory also appears promising. Though by no means a skilled player, Johnson really wants to be a good offensive player, and he's making progress.
Currently, Johnson lacks much in the way of scoring. He doesn't yet possess a skilled back-to-the-basket game, nor does he face the basket effectively. He'll contribute based on size, athleticism and effort, but he's likely years away from being an option for the Cardinals to set up in the post.
For that reason he projects better at fullcourt tempo than he does in halfcourt structure. Fortunately, he's heading into a system that will play to his strengths.
Don't look for huge statistical production from Johnson early. He's likely to be more timely than he is consistent, but that's the value a program receives from such a spirited competitor.
And with further development and given his commendable work ethic, Johnson could bloom into a complete big man before his time with the Cardinals is finished.