Sitting behind All-American Montrezl Harrell last season, University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino kept saying freshman Jaylen Johnson was impressive the coaching staff as the season went on.
But he wasn't going to take Harrell's spot in the lineup.
Now, with Harrell in the NBA it's time for Johnson to step into his role and help the Cardinals' and his effort on Sunday was a huge start. The 6-foot-9 Johnson hit 6 of 8 from the field and finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes of the Cardinals' 71-55 exhibition victory over Bellarmine before 18,612 fans at the KFC Yum! Center.
"Wow, he is really improved," Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport said.
Pitino said Johnson's effort on Sunday against the Knights was "special." The Hall of Fame coach said Johnson has really "gotten better" since the team played six games in Puerto Rico in early August.
“I think he plays with such awesome energy," Pitino said. "He got on the floor for loose balls, offensive rebounds, made tough moves. The first three weeks he played just like that. Then the next two weeks he backed down and Anas looked good, then Matz looked good. The only consistent guy has been Mangok. If he can give us what he gave us tonight that’s really special. He was 6 for 8 from the field and had 10 rebounds.”
Johnson, who gave Harrell a lot of credit for his improvement, had a dunk, hit a jumper from the baseline, made several moves to the basket and was 2-for-2 from the free-throw line. He did miss a three-point attempt.
"I think that's what I can do, a little bit of everything," he said. "Coach told me he wants me to fill into the role that Montrezl had last year and I think I can do that. This is a good start for all of us."
Louisville won its 30th straight exhibition game.