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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
HE HAS a history of staying. When JaJuan Johnson was playing at Indianapolis's Franklin Central High and in AAU with the local Spiece Central Stars, more prominent programs tried to lure him once he emerged as a top prospect. But he rebuffed their offers, opting to stick with coaches he felt were important to his skill development. "At the end of the day," says Purdue coach Matt Painter, "JaJuan always chooses what's best for him."
Last spring the 6'10" center declared for the NBA draft—without hiring an agent—after a junior season in which he averaged 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds. He took the final decision to turn pro down to the wire, even working out with the Rockets the day before the May 8 deadline to withdraw. Houston's evaluators, Johnson says, "told me I needed to improve my body," and no team guaranteed him that he'd be a first-round pick. As he sat waiting for a flight home on May 7, he made up his mind: It would be best to remain at Purdue. The next day Johnson tweeted, "Well folks. Looks like I'll be in the gold and black next year. FINAL 4 OR DIE!!!"
It was a reasonable goal. With Johnson and senior forwards E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel—three All-America candidates—in the lineup, Purdue figured to be a Final Four contender. Then disaster struck: In an Oct. 16 practice Hummel tore his right ACL for the second time in eight months, ending his season and possibly the Boilermakers' title hopes.
A major frontcourt burden is now on Johnson, who heeded NBA execs' advice and added 15 pounds of muscle to bulk up to 225. Johnson's 7'4" wingspan helped Purdue rank eighth nationally in two-point field goal defense last season, but he's also regarded as one of D-I's most skilled offensive big men. And with Hummel gone, he's the most experienced Boilermaker taller than 6'5". Johnson may have decided to return for his own good, but Purdue needs him now more than ever.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Coach Matt Painter (6th season)
2009--10 record 29--6
Big Ten 14--4 (T-1st)
NCAA tournament Sweet 16
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