Johnson Says He's Leaning Toward Staying at Syracuse
Later, he would retreat to a corridor, standing by himself and trying to hold back tears after he had taken his uniform off following Syracuse's surprising 63-59 loss to Butler in Thursday night's NCAA West Regional semifinal at EnergySolutions Arena.
The question now is: Will Johnson ever again don his Orange jersey?
Johnson is a top NBA prospect. NBADraft.net rates him No. 3 in its 2010 mock draft and draftexpress.com has him No. 8.
With those kind of projections, you'd think the 6-foot-7 junior small forward would be a lock to come out. After all, he has been in college for four years anyway, playing two years at Iowa State and sitting out last season as a transfer before being the Big East Player of the Year in his one season with the Orange.
But Johnson said after the tough defeat he's leaning toward coming back for his senior season at Syracuse.
"Losing like this is very hurtful,'' Johnson said. "It makes me lean toward going back to school. So I don't really put too much thought about going to the next level.''
Johnson was asked if the top-seeded Orange losing this early in the tournament makes it more likely he will stay as opposed to if they had made a deep tournament run.
"Yeah,'' he said. "Nobody likes to lose, especially to lose like this, the way we played with all those turnovers. But it's really undecided (going to the NBA).''
Even though Johnson did talk about leaning toward a return to Syracuse, Orange coach Jim Boeheim isn't putting much stock into that. Boeheim didn't want to talk about Johnson's situation after the game because he said top underclassmen always say right after tournament losses about leaning toward returning, and one can't accurately gauge the situation until some time has passed.
It might be hard for Johnson, who totaled 17 points and nine rebounds Thursday to finish with seasonal averages of 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, to turn down NBA money. Not only is he likely a top prospect, but the league could have a lockout in 2011-12, which could leave players taken in the 2011 draft looking for somewhere to play.
Still, it sounds as if Johnson carefully will analyze the situation.
"I'll talk to [Boeheim] and my family, and see what the best decision is for me,'' said Johnson, not giving a timetable on when those talks will occur.
If Johnson does leave after one Syracuse season, albeit four total years of college, it wouldn't be anything new for Boeheim. Current NBA players Carmelo Anthony and Donte Green left for the NBA after one Syracuse season, and that was after each was a freshman.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@christomasson