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Duke freshman Jalen Johnson declares for NBA draft

Duke forward Jalen Johnson

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - JANUARY 23: Jalen Johnson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots the ball against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on January 23, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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Jalen Johnson – due to an agreement between NBA owners and a union that represents current NBA players trying to protect their jobs – was not allowed to play in the NBA this season. He instead played at Duke, which – as part of the NCAA cartel – colludes with competing schools to cap athletes’ wages below market value.

At this point, he’s done with college basketball and awaiting the NBA draft.

Duke release:
Duke men’s basketball forward Jalen Johnson announced he will forgo the remainder of his freshman season and declare for the 2021 NBA Draft.

“I appreciate everything about my time at Duke,” said Johnson. “Coach K, my teammates and the program have been nothing but supportive throughout this season, especially during the rehab of my foot injury. My family, Coach and I have made the decision that I should not play the remainder of this season so I can be 100 percent healthy in preparation for the NBA Draft. This was not easy but we feel it’s best for my future. I have nothing but love for the Brotherhood and thank my teammates and everyone associated with the program. Duke will always have a special place in my heart and will always be a part of me.”

“While we are encouraged by what we are seeing medically, for Jalen’s future, we believe this decision is in his best interest,” said head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We are ultimately careful with every one of our players and will continue to support Jalen as he progresses toward his goal of playing professional basketball. He deserves to be fully healthy for the upcoming NBA Draft.”

Johnson declaring for the draft while Duke has at least seven games remaining on the schedule intensifies questions about his foot and attitude. NBA teams should and will investigate. Both his health and commitment are relevant to the next level.

But teams should also keep sight of the big picture. Johnson is a talented player who was thrust into an unfair choice for how to spend this season (which had additional complications from the coronavirus pandemic). He might have made a completely reasonable decision to opt out. Though his choice is getting scrutinized as the outlier it currently is, Johnson could be a trendsetter of undercompensated players leaving college basketball once the system becomes insufficiently beneficial to them. College athletes shouldn’t feel obligated to be used by a system that is so unjust merely in the name of teamwork.

As for his pro prospects, Johnson is a probable lottery pick.

The 6-foot-9 forward is an awesome athlete with a near-complete defensive package – protecting the rim, defending on the perimeter, disrupting ball-handlers and rebounding. He can grab and go, push the ball quickly in the open court and find open teammates.

But his passing, while promising, is overly ambitious. He can also dribble into trouble in the halfcourt. His jumper is jerky, and developing that skill could swing his outlook.

Johnson’s future is in the NBA, though. That’s why he decided his present was no longer at Duke.