Where Are They Now: Men’s basketball’s D.J. Johnson

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Then-forward DJ Johnson tries to figure out his next move at the game against Iowa State on Feb. 15, 2017, at Bramlage Coliseum. (Archive photo by Kelly Pham | Collegian Media Group)

In his five years on the Kansas State basketball team, from the 2012-13 season to the 2016-17 season, D.J. Johnson averaged 6.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game. Johnson didn’t leave basketball behind in Manhattan, however, now playing professionally in the Dominican and soon Serbia.

Out of Parkway North High School in St. Louis, Missouri, Johnson had a very productive senior year, which led to him being second in the division in blocks and fourth in rebounding. Averaging 16.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 5.0 blocks and 1.6 steals a game, Johnson had colleges turning heads for the big recruit but chose the purple and white in Manhattan, Kansas.

“It was a Big 12 and Nike Elite school,” Johnson said. “I had a really good visit when I came over with the seniors that year, like Rodney [Mcgruder], Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and Martavious Irving. But, I was never really recruited to K-State until Bruce [Weber] and Chris [Lowery] came in. Bruce recruited me out of Illinois as a freshman until I was a senior. Chris Lowery did the same thing but from a different school, so when they both came together, it kind of worked out.”

Like a true K-State fan, Johnson’s favorite Wildcat memory happened while he was in the stands.

‘It’s funny because my favorite K-State memory happened when I wasn’t even playing,” Johnson said. “This was the year that the boys made a run and made it to the Elite 8. I got to be there and see it happen, and it was just crazy for me.”

Johnson weighed in on former head coach Bruce Weber’s retirement, expressing how grateful he is for his old leader.

“My [junior] year, we lost to Kansas in the Big 12 [tournament], and I felt like I had played a pretty good game,” Johnson said. “I was walking back to the hotel room and the elevator doors opened, and it was Bruce and his wife about to go out to dinner. I stepped out of the way for them to get by so that I could get on the elevator and Bruce just stepped out, smiled at me and gave me a big hug that lasted the better part of a minute.”

The loss in the conference quarterfinals ended the season for the Wildcats, keeping them out of the NCAA tournament.

“Then he just walked away,” Johnson said. “There were no words said and none that needed to be said. That’s just the kind of guy Bruce is: he’s just always trying to help someone. You would never know half of the good stuff that he does because he doesn’t broadcast it at all, but he is just always there trying to help someone — anyone. I think that was one really big takeaway when I left K-State. The way that coach carried himself and always found a way to help someone is something that I will cherish forever.”

Though Johnson’s college career had ended, his professional career was just getting started.

“Initially, I played in Greece for about a year, then I got shipped off to South Korea for six months, but I finished that season in Mexico,” Johnson said. “I eventually got on to the Warriors G-League team and played. I thought basketball was done there for me.”

With basketball looking like it was over, Johnson obtained a realtor’s license before receiving a call that put his real estate career on hold.

“I got a call from the Denver Nuggets G-League team to play for them but soon got shipped off to Indiana to play for their G-League team,” Johnson said. “I’m currently in the Dominican, and I have a deal that I got a couple of weeks ago to go to Serbia and play. Playing overseas is always fun and interesting because it really is kind of a culture shock, and it is enjoyable. You really just do a lot of smiling and pointing.”

While Manhattan is a special place for many people, Johnson sees it as an escape from a bigger city.

“It’s good to get out of the city,” Johnson said. “Manhattan is a big city, but coming from Saint Louis — it’s just fast-paced, there’s a lot going on — it just feels good to be in a safer place if that makes sense.”

Johnson isn’t afraid to share his love for his college, expressing his excitement to return.

“I enjoyed my experience at Kansas State,” Johnson said, “not only as a student, but also as an athlete. I’m really looking forward to attending more Kansas State events, whether that’s athletic events or student events. I’m proud and excited to continue being an ambassador for the university.”

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