2020-21 Season

For the first time, there’s a lot on Brandon Johns’ shoulders

At this point, the Brandon Johns Jr. arc is a familiar one. For three years, Johns has largely played the role of an enigma, punctuating flashes with fits of indecision and long stretches without relevant minutes. 

In moments — his freshman year against Indiana, his sophomore year at Madison Square Garden, this season against Maryland — it all seems to come together. This talent he carries. Johns is 6-foot-8, springy, the kind of body who fits modern basketball like a glove. Just as quickly, though, it falls apart. Following Michigan’s COVID-19 pause, Johns didn’t play more than 10 minutes in a game until the Big Ten Tournament.

Now, though, the Wolverines don’t have a choice but rely on him.

“We all collectively gonna do our part,” Juwan Howard said Saturday when asked about the impact of Isaiah Livers’ injury. “Me as a coach, every player, all hands on deck.”

It’s a message Howard has chosen to preach this year. Besides a couple of one-game stints when Eli Brooks went down, though, this is the first time it’s really come to fruition. Johns got the starting nod on Saturday ahead of Chaundee Brown and outpaced him in minutes, a decision Howard declined to explain.

The numbers tell a varied story. Johns scored seven points, didn’t make a field goal and Michigan was minus-11 with him on the floor. He also got to the free-throw line eight times, tying a career-high, grabbed eight rebounds and held his own on defense. Like much of Johns’ Michigan career, the game was a Rorschach test — only this time, what you saw might determine how far the Wolverines make it in your bracket.

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