Pitt’s most important player this season will be Durand Johnson. No it is not senior leader Cameron Wright nor point guard James Robinson, it is the Baltimore small forward.
The 6’6 rising junior averaged 8.8 ppg and looked to be the real x factor in the Panthers offense before he tore his ACL on January 11 against Wake Forest. However, Johnson should be healthy by the time ACC play starts in January.
Johnson is a pure shooter that can stretch the defense with his exceptional speed and athleticism. He posses the perfect skill set for Jamie Dixon’s desired tough Big East Style of play combined with the run-and-gun style of ACC play.
Much like his predecessor Gilbert Brown, Johnson’s athletic prowess gives him an edge on whomever is guarding him. The thing that makes him better than Brown though is his above average scoring ability.
Expect the offense to flow through Johnson next season, much like it flowed through Lamar Patterson last season. He will set the pace of the offense for the Panthers and will help create shots for his teammates. Pitt needs him to be healthy in order for them to take the next step in their climb to being an elite team in the ACC.
Pitt will never finish within the top four of the ACC if they continue to stick to their overly tough style of play. The ACC is built differently than the Big East and if Pitt wants to enjoy the same type of success that they had in their old conference they will have to adapt to the their new conference’s style of play.
Johnson will be backed up by transfer Sheldon Jeter who sat out last year after transferring into the Pitt Panthers basketball program from Vanderbilt. Jeter is a Beaver Falls native, just 25 minutes outside of the city of Pittsburgh. He is the younger brother of Nebraska star Lance Jeter, both Jeter brothers can be seen in the annual Pittsburgh basketball club summer league which begins play on Monday.
Jeter has a similar playing ability as Johnson and could start in Johnson’s place if he is not fully recovered from his knee injury come October when the season begins.
Regardless of when Johnson returns to the Panthers lineup he will be the force that drives the Pitt offense, one that promises to be more potent that last season as they look to ascend the ACC standings. He should be quite fun to watch.