Jayce Johnson: Junior Primer

The 2016 class features a slew of tall, graceful athletes, but not everyone can be a Thon Maker or Harry Giles. That brings us to Jayce Johnson, a hard worker who may lack gazelle qualities but nevertheless has earned his place as a national level prospect.

How he got here

How did he get here? To chart the progress of Johnson’s game, we first have to chart the progress of Johnson himself.

Opening his prep career at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, the 6-11 center transferred to San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) JSerra for his sophomore season, enrolled at Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep last fall, and now has transferred back to California and is eligible for Santa Monica (Calif.) High.

Five years from now, Johnson may not even resemble the player he is today

As you might have guessed, putting eyes on Johnson or evaluating his game has become complicated during the high school season. So many changes, new environs, different teammates, etc. — in a sense he has been hiding in plain sight.

But Johnson also has competed on the travel circuit and tested himself against older players with Under Armour’s The Association.

Despite unspectacular stats — seven points and five rebounds per game in eight contests with Earl Watson Elite — Johnson held his own physically and showed signs of becoming a highly effective low block performer.

He benefits from being a southpaw on both ends. He blocks his share of shots and turns over his right shoulder for short lefty hooks. Johnson also possesses a very sturdy frame and should develop into a physically imposing center as he matures.

The fact that he’s so big gives him far more margin for error than most prospects, and coaches are more apt to be patient with a young big man than those players at smaller positions.

To 2015. …

As he continues to grow into his body, Johnson ideally will gain athleticism. That’s something we’ll observe closely as he finishes up his junior season and heads into the travel circuit.

While any gains in athleticism and flexibility are hardly a given, it’s common for big men to gain a touch of physical prowess between the ages of 17-20. Johnson already is very tall and will be strong, so just a slight bump in quickness and reflexes would be hugely beneficial.

Another factor to consider is that style of play works against him in the spring and summer. Traditional centers, those who don’t face the basket or handle the ball, frequently get left behind in the up-and-down, careening style of AAU and camps. For that reason those structure-oriented big men can look less effective than they actually prove to be later, as the game becomes more organized and possession-oriented.

For all those reasons, then, Johnson presently slots No. 42 in the junior class. Because it’s such a strong group for big men he’s actually only the No. 12 center, but the rankings ultimately don’t matter.

As he sets out for the high exposure realm of travel basketball in 2015, he’ll certainly win his share of (additional) offers and especially from those programs that operate at a relatively methodical tempo. Johnson doesn’t necessarily project as a great fit for an up-and-down pace, but his strengths could blossom in a playing style that emphasizes size, strength and determined interior play.

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