Trey Johnson Says He's Ready and Waiting for an NBA Call-Up
Johnson, a 6-foot-5 combo-guard who played collegiate ball at Jackson State, is averaging 25.3 points in 22 games this season and shooting over 50 percent from the field. He's also added 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists to complement his scoring while helping the Jam to a 13-9 record after the team finished just 17-33 last season.
His play this season has also garnered him looks from all around the NBA. Most recently, Johnson said he met with Mike Born, the Portland Trail Blazers' director of NBA scouting, at the D-League Showcase in South Padre Island, Texas, this past week.
The one problematic thing for the 26-year-old, however, is that he's still doing all of this in the D-League this season as opposed to the NBA.
"I have a strong belief in God and, for whatever reason, I'm still here. I'm not going to accept just getting called-up, having a 10-day contract, and then coming right back down and maybe God understands that," Johnson told FanHouse following the Showcase. "Maybe He's like 'I'm going to get him to a situation where he's going to be able to perform well; where he's going to stick and get a legitimate opportunity to go out there and do some things.' I mean, I was called up to Cleveland and I had two 10-days, but I didn't really play. I'm very thankful for the opportunity, but how legit can I really say my time in the NBA was since I didn't really get a chance to play."
Johnson's call-up to the Cavaliers, where he played just 14 minutes spread across four games, came during the 2008-09 season. Since his first and only foray in the NBA, Johnson's split his time between the Jam, Italy and France but his focus is still on returning to the NBA.
"I'm not saying that if I sign a 10-day contract, I'm expecting to go in and play so many minutes. I just want, even if I'm not playing or dressing, the chance to show them that I'm working and what I can bring to the table," Johnson said. "Even if I'm just used to push guys in practice or being a great teammate, I'm working toward another NBA opportunity. I just feel like what I bring is what you want to have out of an 11th, 12th or 13th guy on the roster: somebody who you don't have to worry about if they're going to be ready when you need them, who isn't going to be a headache or get in any trouble and I feel like I can do that -- I know that I can do that."
Johnson's been doing many things right this season in the D-League, especially lately as he scored 31 points in the Showcase finale and followed that up by dropping 34 points on the Sioux Falls Skyforce Saturday night -- 20 of which came in the third quarter to put Bakersfield ahead after trailing 66-61 at halftime.
Still, there are reasons he's still in the D-League. Some decision-makers have said that he's undersized to play at shooting guard in the NBA while others note his three-point percentage -- hovering around 36 percent during his D-League career -- simply limits what he's able to bring to an NBA team.
According to Johnson, though, those criticisms may not be justified.
"Me being honest, and with no disrespect to scouts or general managers or anyone else who makes basketball decisions, I really feel like saying I'm undersized is bogus. Me being a legitimate 6-foot-5, how is that undersized for a two-guard?" Johnson asked. "Since I came out of school, maybe because I went to a small school, the perception of me has been false ... but , eventually, perception turns into reality. They think since I went to a small school that I didn't play great competition and then they try to find everything that I can't do and everything that's wrong with me instead of looking at me for what I am. I feel like I'm a basketball player."
"People try to ask 'Is he a one? Is he a two?' but I can play either one of them," Johnson continued. "I think I can fit in any situation because I feel like my IQ is very high, and I understand the game. I'm not going to come into any situation and try to score 20 points per game. They try to say I'm not a great athlete. Well, I've played against plenty of guys who were 10 times better than me athletically but they weren't better basketball players so I don't know if athleticism really has that much to do with it."
It's hard to disagree with Johnson, really. As D-League Digest's Joey Whelan noted last week, it's difficult to explain why Johnson's still in the D-League after playing as efficiently as he has thus far this season. In fact, becoming more efficient was Johnson's goal this year in the D-League.
"Coming into the season, my goal wasn't to go out there and average so many points, it was just to be more efficient because I think that's what teams look for when they're looking at bringing up D-League guys," Johnson said. "You're not going to be the first offensive option, or second, or even third , so you have to be efficient in what you're doing -- whether you're taking six shots or 26 shots, you've got to be efficient."
Though Johnson's main goal was becoming more efficient this season, he said he's focused on becoming a more complete package ever since coming out of Jackson State in 2007 after leading the NCAA in scoring.
"Each year, I feel like I've gotten better in different aspects of my game ... I feel like each year I've become a different, more complete player," Johnson said. "I guess I have to just keep continuing to do what I do and improve every day because I'm always working on my game, trying to get better. Whatever happens, happens."
Hopefully what happens, at least for Johnson's sake, is he's given another chance in the NBA to prove that he's become a better player since teams last saw him in the NBA.
To watch Johnson in action, be sure to check back tonight at 8 p.m. ET as his game against the Sioux Falls Skyforce will be streamed live here on NBA FanHouse.