When I wrote an article last year about how a freshman Samson Johnson could potentially have a bigger role than current Georgetown forward Akok Akok, it was a bold take.
After all, Akok had been on the court longer and had shown impressive defense when he saw the court. Johnson had yet to see any division one playing time and with a crowded frontcourt in 2022, the production was certainly looking limited.
But, there’s a reason why I had such strong opinions regarding the current sophomore. When coach Dan Hurley was asked about Johnson in 2022, the UConn head coach had a bold statement, saying that the big man had “wall potential,” referring to UConn’s wall of players that were selected to the NBA as a lottery pick and saw in-game action.
Even in year 2, Johnson says that Hurley reminds him of that statement everyday. “That just boosts my confidence. It tells me that I can do it,” said Johnson. While Johnson may have not reached his true potential as a freshman, seeing limited action in 13 games and averaging just 1.7 points, I’m ready to predict that he will make a huge leap in his second year, especially with a variety of factors that will help contribute to Johnson’s development.
First, it was clear that Johnson had to bulk up, especially with much of Johnson’s scoring attributed to his 6-foot-10 height advantage in the paint and being outperformed on plenty of occasions in the paint. In order to keep up with bigger defenders and make tough plays in the paint, it was essential that Johnson had to add muscle. During the offseason, that’s exactly what he did, putting on six to eight pounds of muscle during the summer offseason and going from 198 pounds in his freshman season to 210 pounds in his upcoming sophomore season. Johnson says it may have been his biggest improvement during the offseason.
“I got a lot bigger and stronger,” said Johnson when remarking on what he’s worked on the most this offseason. That’s going to help me this year a lot.”
Second, Johnson does not have as much competition in the frontcourt. While the team still has players like Adama Sanogo, Donovan Clingan, and Alex Karaban all in the frontcourt, it’s certainly not as deep as last season’s roster that featured Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley, Sanogo, and Akok. With a full year of development under Hurley in 2022, there’s no reason as to why Johnson shouldn’t be getting additional minutes, especially when his confidence is sky-high.
“I’m really confident right now,” said Johnson when talking about his confidence level going into the season. “I’m going with a lot of confidence.”
Along with Johnson’s increased strength that should serve him well in the paint, it’s impossible to mention Johnson without discussing his versatility on the offensive end, especially his shooting. Last season, Johnson showed flashes of his shooting when he knocked down an open three-point shot against Grambling State. While that may be an incredibly small sample size, I don’t believe it’s far-fetched to say that Johnson should be getting more looks from beyond the arc with his increased minutes in the UConn frontcourt rotation.
“It’s just getting better and better. Every single day, I’m just working on my game, shooting a lot of threes and pick and pop threes,” said Johnson.
“It’s just getting better and better. Every single day, I’m just working on my game, shooting a lot of threes and pick and pop threes.”Samson Johnson, UConn men’s basketball player
Finally, as a big man looking to make a huge leap, it’s useful for Johnson to have a mentor who’s been successful in college basketball. As a member of the UConn Huskies, he has to look no further than junior Adama Sanogo, the Big East’s leading rebounder and one of the top big men in all of college basketball.
“Adama is just a player that makes you go harder. Even when you don’t feel like going harder, he just pushes you. It’s either by talking or his actions. He’s a good teammate,” said Johnson.
For UConn’s sophomore big man, the writing is on the wall for a strong comeback season. If Johnson is able to take full advantage of his skillset and have his work translate into success on the court, there’s no doubt that he will have heads turning for the Huskies next season.