After his team played for a week in Puerto Rico this summer, University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino said sophomore Jaylen Johnson "had a long way to go," in order to be a huge contributor for the Cardinals this season.
Now, just two months later it appears Johnson has made huge strides.
Pitino said on Saturday after the Red-White Scrimmage that the 6-foot-9 Johnson has turned the corner and he is expected to play a huge role in replacing All-American Montrezl Harrell in the lineup for the Cardinals this season.
"He was behind Montrezl," sophomore Chinanu Onuaku said after the scrimmage of Johnson. "He watched and learned from Montrezl and it just took him a little time. He will be fine."
Johnson had 11 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in the first half of the scrimmage on the losing White team, but in the second half helped the Red team to victory with nine points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal.
In the 36 minutes of action, Johnson was 8 of 17 from the field including 2 of 4 from three-point range and made both free throws.
"I think Jaylen, the better shape he gets in the better basketball player he'll be," Pitino said. "He's in better shape. He's still high in the body fat area, but he's gone from 11 to 8. When he gets to the low 7s, his conditioning will be very good and he'll be able to maintain it.
"He's a very good rebounder with a nose for the ball."
Johnson was a late arrival on campus last season because of some paperwork issues with his high school in Ypsilanti, Mich., so he missed early workouts with the team prior to his freshman season.
While he never played in more than 11 minutes a game last season because of Harrell, Johnson said he felt he "made a lot of improvement," and it showed in the NCAA Tournament. He said he was in better shape and by the NCAA Tournament was able to be put in and make plays. He averaged 4.7 points a game in 24 games for the Cardinals as a freshman.
"I just feel lighter on my feet," Johnson said. "I have been putting in the work on and off the floor to just become a better person overall and it's just been showing on the court I think. It's showing on my body."
Johnson said his 18 rebounds in the scrimmage is "going to have to be my contribution to the team," noting rebounding is going to be a key for the Cardinals' interior players this season with Harrell having moved on to the NBA.
"Our attitude as a team is so good and that helps with everything," Johnson said. "I still have to work on slowing down a little and not taking bad shots, but I feel like I am getting better."