How David Johnson emerged into the future for Louisville basketball

The 2019-20 season gave us a small glimpse of how special of a future Louisville basketball guard David Johnson can have. How he emerged into the future for the Cards.

Louisville basketball has had its fair share of local stars as of late, such as Quentin Snider, Chane Behanan, and Dwayne Sutton to just name a few over the last several seasons. In fact, recruiting local players has been a staple in the success of Louisville basketball.

During the 2019-20 season, Cardinal fans saw the emergence of David Johnson, a highly rated guard coming out of Trinity High School. Johnson, just as his cousin Ray Spalding did, decided to stay in Louisville and play in his home town for the Cardinals, even after watching the program go through a tough patch of uncertainty. Not only did he come out this season and perform well, but he will also have many eyes on him these next couple of years as he develops into one of the nation’s top point guards.

David Johnson was a 4-year starter at Trinity High School in Louisville. His senior year, he averaged 16.1 points and 7.2 rebounds a game which led the Shamrocks to a Kentucky State Championship. In the 2019 class, Johnson was rated number 76 on ESPN’s top 100 recruits.

“I believed in him when a lot of people didn’t. I appreciated David when he was a sophomore in high school, a junior and senior in high school,” Mack said. “I was recruiting my tail off for him at Xavier.”

As Kentucky’s top recruit, he initially decommitted from Louisville after the change in staff and FBI investigation. Thankfully with Mack coming to Louisville, he decided to pass on other offers and became a Cardinal. This was a big win for Mack’s first full recruiting class in Louisville.

It was a matter of when not if, Johnson was going to become an impact player in his first season on campus when people talked about expectations and what the 6’5 old-school point guard could bring to the floor for a team capable of winning it all.

Unfortunately, in July 2019 he suffered a shoulder injury that put everything into question. The team announced he would miss four to six months and could return in November. At this point, many hoped this set back wouldn’t result in a redshirt season for Johnson.

For a freshman, fall practices and the preseason is vital for their development as a player. Especially if they are expected to get significant playing time. At the time, this was a blow to Cardinal fans’ excitement surrounding a top recruit.

Coach Mack said in a release, “This is tough news on David for sure. I feel badly for DJ because of his excitement level to start his college career. He was having an excellent summer to date and we will miss him over the next few months.”

Johnson was able to make his return in November but didn’t receive the minutes he would have if he didn’t sustain his injury. Mack slowly worked him back into a vital role for the Cards. In his first six games, including the Texas Tech loss, he never played over eight minutes as Mack wanted to ease him into the lineup with caution.

He finally had his breakout performance in January against Duke. Johnson played 27 minutes and scored 19 points. Alex Stengel wrote about Louisville’s win over Duke and how it ended up being one of the biggest wins of the season and the official coming out party for the freshman guard.

The Louisville-grown freshman phenom finally had the breakout game every Cards fan was waiting for, after playing sparingly and seeing flashes of greatness in previous games. When a true freshman goes off for 19 points, seven assists, four rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, good things are bound to happen. DJ only shooting (and making) a single three-pointer is one of the most impressive things from that stat line, besides his overall dominance of the Dukies.

This game truly showed Cardinal fans what he was capable of, even against a top-five team. After losing four months in the preseason, two of which he could only ride a bike, he emerged as a critical part of the Cardinals team.

While the season was up and down for Johnson, just like it was for Louisville, we saw flashes of brilliance that showed just how good the team can be with Johnson leading the helm. Chris Mack has admitted that the best playmaker on the 2019-20 Cardinal team was David Johnson, and he will likely be that for as long as he wishes.

Johnson had to earn his keep in 2020 with senior guards Fresh Kimble and Ryan McMahon along with Darius Perry fighting for every single minute of playing time. Each and every game we saw Johnson take a step forward in a new part of his game – whether it be playmaking, scoring, shooting, or on the defensive end.

That type of improvement is what will be needed this offseason.

Barring any unforeseen circumstance, Johnson will be back in 2020-21 and will take on the lead guard role that he stepped into late in the season without much trouble. The season averages don’t tell how good he can be when you look at it, but if you go back and watch his performance against Duke, as well as how he played in games like Clemson and Georgia Tech (in the loss, late down the stretch) you see the making of a guard who has the potential to be all-time good as a Cardinal.

Without the presence of the six upperclassmen who have since departed from the program, the expectations and hopes for 2020 will be squarely placed on Johnson’s shoulders as he’ll look to become the next two-and-through player for the Cards.

Johnson has a huge future with the Cardinals and will have to play a critical role if Louisville is to have any success in the coming years. Without question, David Johnson is the future of Louisville basketball.