Back to school: Duke basketball signee makes promising decision

Duke basketball mascot (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Duke basketball mascot (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

By choosing to go back to school, the highest-ranked member of the 2020 Duke basketball class has put to rest some rumors; nevertheless, some uncertainty about his future remains.

The situation still seems strange. Therefore, the likelihood of seeing Jalen Johnson in a Duke basketball jersey next season still doesn’t seem like 100 percent.

That said, after leaving IMG Academy (Fla.) for undisclosed reasons during the fall semester, now that the five-star Duke signee has decided to return to his former high school in his home state of Wisconsin — as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Mark Stewart recently reported — any chance Johnson might have held to be eligible for the 2020 NBA Draft should no longer exist.

See, Johnson fulfills requirement No. 1 to bypass college and enter the upcoming draft: turning 19 years old this calendar year (Dec. 18). And had he not planned on graduating, he could have tried to take advantage of the league’s poorly worded draft-eligibility rules by claiming he would’ve graduated in 2019 had he wanted to do so.

By doing so, the 6-foot-8, 215-pound small forward might would have been able to fulfill requirement No. 2: at least one NBA season having elapsed “since the graduation of the class with which the player would have graduated had he graduated from high school.”

Instead, per Stewart, a text late last week from Johnson’s dad, Roderick, asserts that the No. 6 prospect on the 247Sports 2020 Composite will re-enroll at his junior-year stomping grounds — Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wis. — but has not yet decided if he will attempt to acquire a necessary waiver to lace ’em up again for the squad there (his younger brother, junior guard Kobe Johnson, averages roughly 20 points per game for the school this season).

Another encouraging sign for fans hoping to see the heralded hoopster in Durham next season came in the form of his dad’s tweet last week showing Johnson standing next to former Duke basketball one-and-done Jayson Tatum:

Johnson — whose lengthy, sturdy frame and unselfish, graceful game bring to mind Duke basketball greats Grant Hill and Shane Battier — had transferred to IMG for his senior season, where he was the roommate of fellow 2020 Duke signee Mark Williams, a four-star center.

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But ever since reports began trickling out in December of Johnson’s departure from the school — with no public explanation from his family concerning the reason for the split — speculation about his plans has, naturally, exploded on social media.

Because Johnson now has no chance to participate in at least 50 percent of the games for his senior season, he is not eligible to be a McDonald’s All-American. As for whether he will be both eligible and willing to be a Duke basketball player in the fall, well, though such a future looks far more promising than it did a week ago, we’ll all just have to wait and see.

In addition to Johnson and Williams, the Blue Devils secured signatures in November from four other 2020 recruits: Paul VI Catholic (Va.) five-star point guard Jeremy Roach, Whitney Young (Ill.) five-star combo guard D.J. Steward, Trinity Episcopal (Va.) four-star power forward Henry Coleman, and Huntington Prep (W.Va.) four-star power forward Jaemyn Brakefield. The class currently ranks No. 2 in the country, behind Kentucky’s and one spot ahead of UNC’s, per 247Sports.

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