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Men’s Basketball: Leading UL scorer Johnson enters NCAA transfer portal

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 22, 2020

Jalen Johnson, UL’s leading scorer and rebounder in the 2019-20 season, has entered the NCAA transfer portal and also plans to pursue the possibility of turning of pro. 

Johnson averaged 15.5 points per game during the season, which ranked sixth among Sun Belt Conference scoring leaders, including 15.0 during play.

The 6-foot-7 forward, named state Newcomer of the Year by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, also averaged 6.6 boards per game.  

“This is what is best for me and my family,” Johnson said in a statement posted Wednesday afternoon on Twitter that said he planned to transfer from UL.

“I am excited to say that I am looking forward to what my future holds. I thank God for all the blessings.”

More: UL’s Johnson named LSWA state Newcomer of the Year

UL coach Bob Marlin said Johnson is "on course" to graduate in the spring, which would make him eligible to play elsewhere in 2020-21.

But Johnson evidently has another option.

“We appreciate Jalen’s contributions to our basketball team, both on and off the court, during the 2019-20 season,” Marlin said in a statement released by the school. “He spoke with me in the past couple of weeks about early entry into the NBA Draft and he has completed his paperwork. … We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

As a senior, Johnson is permitted by NCAA rule to test NBA waters while also retaining college eligibility.

Marlin did not immediately respond to a request, made through a team spokesman, for further comment about the decision.

Johnson also thanked “the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and men’s coaching staff for giving me the opportunity to play for the university … (and) the fans of the community and ULL for supporting me.”

“It has been an honor playing in front of everyone in Lafayette,” he posted. “I wish nothing but the best for the institution and my teammates.”

More: UL’s Jalen Johnson must know opponents have him pegged

A transfer from St. Louis University and a product of University Lab in Baton Rouge, Johnson sat out the 2018-19 season in accord with NCAA transfer rules.

He averaged 7.5 points per game as a freshmen for the Billikens, when he started 18 of 33 games, and 9.1 as a sophomore, when he started 24 of 33.

Johnson becomes the third Cajun known to have entered the transfer portal, but the first full-time starter.

Freshman guard Calvin Temple and sophomore big man Kristian Lafayette also entered after the 2019-20 season ended for the 14-19 Cajuns with a second-round loss at Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt Tournament.

Whether or not any other Cajuns will step into the portal remains to be seen.

Related: Cajuns not immune from NCAA transfer portal movement

Marlin expressed uncertainty when asked during a Zoom conference Tuesday where his team was on scholarships and players returning or not returning, and if starting big man Tirus Smith, who was suspended for disciplinary reasons at the end of the season, would return for his senior season.

“All that’s to-be-determined,” the Cajuns coach said then, before news of Johnson’s departure was made public. “We’re still working, and until we get back to school, or get closer to July 1, the roster is gonna be in flux a little bit.”

The Cajuns have added three players since the season ended: 6-11 former University of Portland transfer Theo Akwuba, 6-6 ex-Mississippi State guard Devin Butts and 6-4 Ranger (Texas) College juco transfer Brayan Au.

UL also added Lake Charles-area high school product Michael Thomas in early signing period last year.

The Cajuns do not yet know if Butts or Akwuba will be eligible to play right away, or if they’ll have to sit a season like Johnson did in 2018-19.

Related: SEC transfer Butts, juco transfer Au joining the Cajuns

More: Marlin’s Cajuns add 6-foot-11 Portland transfer Akwuba

A vote on a one-time waiver allowance from the NCAA is scheduled in May.

“We’re getting conflicting reports about that,” Marlin said of the possibility that the one-time waiver rule gets passed.

“The majority of the coaches are against it, but it’s inevitable. It’s gonna happen soon; whether it happens this year or in ’21, that’s the main timeline all the coaches are concerned about.”

More: The world changed when season ended for Marlin and UL

More: Freshman Mylik Wilson living up to the hype for the Ragin’ Cajuns

More: Russell, Cajuns erase a bad memory with Sun Belt win

More: Cajuns missed injured Julien in loss at Arizona State

Related: Cajuns Julien, Johnson grew close during tough times

Butts, who was limited in part by injury to six games last season, and Akwuba, who spent part of last season dealing with family matters back home in Alabama, could also be eligible to receiver hardship rulings that would allow them to play immediately.

Marlin said “both will have a couple options on the waiver, not necessarily just the one-time waiver rule that’s being voted on.”

“Depending on what happens in the waiver process,” he said, “we could be a lot deeper going into the season.”

The Cajuns’ returnees include starters Cedric Russell, their No. 2 scorer season, and Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Mylik Wilson, along with Kobe Julien, who had been starting as a freshman before getting injured in early December and undergoing knee surgery.