Johnson continues rehabilitation for upcoming season

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Johnson continues rehabilitation for upcoming season

By Jeremy Tepper / Staff Writer

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This story is a continuation of a story published on Monday. Read part one here.

After he tore his ACL on Jan. 11, Durand Johnson’s spirits were low. But encouraging words from his family and friends helped him recuperate.

“I had so much positive feedback and so many positive people around me that kept me with a strong mind-set to get back quick and to rehab hard every day,” Johnson said.

Words from one friend particularly resonated with Johnson. After tearing his patellar tendon, Johnson’s friend got back to playing basketball and dunking again.

“My friend, at the time, he was telling me ‘I wish I would have torn my ACL, this is way worse,’” Johnson said. “I was just thinking ‘damn, you’re right.’ Maybe it’s not the worst thing that can happen to me.”

Though he wasn’t able to play, Johnson used his energy to the team’s advantage the rest of the season. Johnson became a motivational coach, talking to his teammates during halftime and helping relay the coaching staff’s thoughts to the players.

After the season ended in defeat to Florida in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, Johnson stepped up his rehabilitation. There were no rest days: He rehabbed about four hours a day, every day of the week.

Though he wouldn’t classify himself as 100 percent, Johnson has made a nearly complete recovery from his injury. He still has some soreness occasionally, though it’s nothing he can’t play through.

“I got my legs under me. Every day it feels a lot better,” Johnson said. “I just continue to move forward, keep working, continue to rehab and not get complacent.”

Having been in the program for four years — longer than anybody on the team besides Cameron Wright — Johnson has embraced his leadership role. Although he’s a vocal player on the court and in practice, Johnson tries to lead by example, just like the players before him.

“I learned from older guys like Lamar Patterson and Ashton Gibbs. I played with those guys, so I already know the ropes, so I try to share it with my young guys, with the young freshmen. By them seeing me do it, they’ll just follow me,” Johnson said.

Though the freshmen have a lot to learn, Johnson is focusing on teaching them about the increase in intensity level and talent from high school to college.

“When college starts, the first game, the intensity picks up. It’s fast out there. Guys are stronger, guys are bigger, guys are quicker,” Johnson said.

While at Brewster Academy, Johnson also led through his work ethic.

“His family has taught him the value of hard work,” Jason Smith, Johnson’s prep head coach at Brewster Academy, said. “[He’s] always in the gym working out and not afraid to put in the extra time in order to be successful.”

Of course, Johnson is also focusing on augmenting his own abilities. Mainly, he’s tried to polish his ball handling. Since Patterson graduated, Johnson will have to help take over some of his ball handling responsibilities. A large part of Pitt’s offense ran through Patterson last year, especially in pick and rolls, and Johnson has been working on various drills to become adept in executing that play.

“I would get two chairs together, and one staggered, come off, split the screen and do different things like that to get familiar with the play sets and going off the screen more,” Johnson said.

Nevertheless, Johnson said he won’t force his shot, even though he’s confident in his abilities.

“Coach always says do the right thing, do the smart thing and everything else will fall into place,” Johnson said.

Already a deft shooter, Johnson has still worked on his technique. Coming off his surgery, he said he was flat-footed and not getting enough elevation on his jumper. However, with consistent work, he’s gotten his rhythm back in his shot.

“It was just like riding a bike,” Johnson said.

Now that he’s largely done with rehab, Johnson said he is anxious to get back on the court. He’s developed a greater appreciation for his opportunity, describing himself as more “humble and hungry” than ever. He’s eager to get back to what he missed last season, while also proving that he hasn’t skipped a beat since getting injured.

“I just want to win. We got there [NCAA Tournament] last year, but I was devastated I couldn’t be out there with my teammates,” Johnson said. “I just cherish that moment, cherish that feeling when I went down and I want to get back there this year.”

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