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Friday, August 31, 2012
Memphis takes a risk on juco talent

By Eamonn Brennan

How good is Geron Johnson? I don't know. Beyond a cursory YouTube search in advance of this post, I've never seen Johnson play. But his talent clearly exists, and it must be significant. It has to be. Otherwise, given Johnson's history, the risk Memphis coach Josh Pastner is taking on Johnson could very well end up seeming reckless.

On Thursday, Johnson learned that he would indeed be enrolled at Memphis after months of questions about his potential eligibility and worries about the mistakes Johnson has made in his hoops career to date. On Thursday, CBS's Gary Parrish offered a nice summary therein:
Johnson is a heralded combo guard from Dayton whose natural talent is only overshadowed by the amount of off-the-court problems he's experienced since becoming an elite recruit. He was arrested for attempted burglary during high school and was an academic non-qualifier upon graduation. He then enrolled at Chipola College in Florida as a freshman but was ultimately dismissed from that team after a marijuana arrest. He then enrolled at Garden City College in Kansas as a sophomore but was also dismissed from that team and school after multiple legal problems, among them allegations that he stole another student's cell phone.

But wait, there's more: When Johnson was dismissed from Garden City College in February, his coach, Kris Baumann, told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal the following:
"Like I said (when Johnson committed to Memphis two weeks ago), we didn't have any problems with him at all (before the theft of property citation), and then it just went on a landslide. It was one thing after another on a daily basis. It was just a decision that finally enough was enough.

"I kind of feel bad for them (Memphis) because they did everything they were supposed to do, and the kid these last two weeks hasn't been able to keep his nose clean."

At the time, it seemed difficult to believe Johnson would ever enroll at Memphis. He had been dismissed from two junior colleges in two straight seasons, to say nothing of his high school history of legal and academic issues. Getting caught smoking weed is one thing. Being accused of burglary and theft of a student's cell phone on top of a marijuana arrest -- that's the kind of checkered past that will cause most college coaches to stay far away. Who needs the headache?

Pastner certainly doesn't. He may need Johnson's scoring -- his sheer ability to put the ball in the basket is his best quality, and one the Tigers could use after the loss of wing Will Barton -- but Pastner already has a good mix of experienced players and future NBA talent on his squad. He's hardly hurting for personnel. Why take the risk?

Perhaps Pastner sees something in Johnson that others haven't. Maybe he just wants to give the kid a chance. Or maybe Johnson's just so talented that Pastner couldn't resist giving him one last chance. Whatever the reasons, this qualifies as a major gamble, and every conceivable outcome is now officially on the table.