It’s not easy to disappear when you’re a 6-foot-10, 292-pound big man on a basketball floor. But Reggie Johnson is missing.
On Saturday, I watched the Miami center miss multiple layups and play relaxed D in a three-point loss to Duke in Durham, N.C. Ryan Kelly’s 36-point effort lit up Cameron Indoor Stadium. The top-10 Hurricanes had little room for error in that outing.
So Johnson’s early miscues mattered. In 17 minutes, he registered the following stat line: 0-for-5, four fouls, five rebounds and zero points.
As I watched Johnson from press row, I noticed that he lacked the energy I’d expect from a veteran center playing for the ACC title. He was lethargic. Whenever he drew contact, he’d throw his hands into the air instead of running the floor to defend on the other end.
On Wednesday night, he disappeared again in Miami’s 71-69 home loss to Georgia Tech.
Reggie Johnson would have liked to revel in a glorious occasion Wednesday night. But he spent too much of the game on the bench, towel on thighs, elbows on knees, chin in hands.
When the Hurricanes had a chance to clinch the University of Miami’s first ACC regular season title, Johnson was not inserted.
When Georgia Tech’s Marcus Georges-Hunt drove to the basket as time ran out, Johnson was not imposing his mass to alter the shot or block the tip-in that secured the 71-69 upset for the lowly Yellow Jackets and silenced fans primed to celebrate history.
Johnson had a faraway look in his eyes. The senior center has been a big, big, big part of UM’s progression to No. 6 in the nation. What remains to be seen is whether he will be a big part of UM’s upcoming ACC and NCAA Tournament runs. He is 300 pounds of unrealized potential. March would be the perfect time to tap it.
He played 15 minutes, scored two points on four shots, grabbed a single rebound, and missed his lone free throw.
The loss followed UM’s loss at Duke, where Johnson played 17 minutes and scored zero points, made five rebounds and failed to get to the line.
Johnson’s presence has been diminishing since he returned from a thumb injury on Jan. 23. He lost his starting role to Julian Gamble. His scoring average has dropped from 11.3 to 8.1. His rebounding average has dropped from 9.5 to 7.5. In the past nine games, he has made just nine free throws.
I still believe the Hurricanes are a dangerous crew even though their defense has stumbled during their current 1-3 stretch (21stin adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). They have one of the nation’s top wings in Shane Larkin.
But Johnson’s struggles affect the entire program’s ceiling. He missed eight games with a thumb injury. Since his return, he’s been inconsistent.
Miami is not the nation’s most athletic team. The Canes probably don’t have a first-round draft pick on their roster.
They cracked the top 10 with discipline and execution. And that’s the only way that they’ll recover from this ugly finish and compete for the ACC’s tournament title. That’s the only way they’ll make a run in the NCAA tournament.
Johnson is a key factor in realizing their potential. And if his challenges persist, the Canes may never reach it.