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Player Profile: Brandon Johns remains the wild card off the Michigan bench

There still feels like even more to unlock here, but consistency is key.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Johns Jr., a junior power forward out of East Lansing, Michigan is next up in our profile series ahead of the 2020-21 season. The step he took from his freshman to sophomore season was a big one, but there is still plenty of evidence to suggest his best basketball with the Michigan Wolverines is still very much ahead of him.

Here’s a look at his career to this point and the role that he will play on the roster this season.

The story so far

Johns, who is described as “one of the team comedians with his quick with and impersonations” in his profile on the official team website, was a four-star recruit in the class of 2018 and the No. 70 player in the country coming of East Lansing High School right in the heart of Michigan State Spartans country. John Beilein was able to snatch him away from Tom Izzo, who apparently did not sit well with the MSU head coach. As the story goes, Johns said that Izzo went on a rant when he called to inform him he would be taking his talents to Michigan.

Despite possessing the combination of length, athleticism and offensive promise coming out of high school, he still was incredibly raw — and lanky, he’s put on about 30 pounds since arriving — when he showed up on campus. However, he still made a bit of an impact early on in his career, playing in 28 games in 2018-19 as a true freshman and averaging a tick over four minutes per game. Still, the tools were on display and Johns showed a high motor on both ends of the floor that just needed more refining in other aspects of his game.

An expanded role was in the cards for him last season under Howard, where he played in 30 games and made 11 starts at the four while Isaiah Livers was dealing with injuries. His playing time nearly quadrupled (19.6 minutes per game) and he averaged six points per game. The best game of his career so far came in a win over Rutgers at Madison Square Garden where he recorded 20 points and made four shots from beyond the three-point line. His defense inside improved as well and he was second on the team in blocks last year with 21 before the season was cut short due to the pandemic.

Last season in Ann Arbor, Johns shot 49.2 percent from the floor and 34.5 percent from three. He also grabbed four rebounds per game.

How he fits in 2020-21

As of right now, this is a roster that you can confidently say can go eight-deep in terms of who will see notable minutes and Johns is certainly in that group. It is not hard seeing him having a similar role to what he had last year as someone who comes off the bench to spell Livers and bring energy on both sides of the floor. With so many guys that can do so many different things on the roster, it’s going to be really interesting to see how Howard elects to use Johns in his lineup combinations.

At 6-foot-8, 240 pounds, Johns is a four-man that has the ability to play a small-ball center role when called upon. Depending on how far along Hunter Dickinson is in his development, Johns might play a little bit more at the five early on or when Michigan wants to get shooters on the floor. It feels like there is still another gear to unlock with Johns’ game, but he’s been streaky in his career and his points have often come in bunches. Consistency is going to be key for him with other players developing and hoping for a piece of playing time this season.

It’s hard to see him cracking the starting lineup without an injury somewhere, but the Wolverines will no doubt need his fire in whatever role he can provide it in. His development will be important for the 2021-22 campaign, as he will be a senior on a roster full of young forwards that project to make an impact sooner rather than later.