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The Arrival of Consistency

JaJuan Johnson dunks against Washington in the Round of 32. Getty Images

Purdue center JaJuan Johnson's freshman season is best represented by his NCAA Tournament.

In the opening round against Baylor, he was unstoppable: 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in just 20 minutes. His numbers were better than Robbie Hummel, Purdue's most notable frosh.

Two days later against Xavier, Johnson looked pedestrian: four points, two rebounds and zero blocks in 13 minutes.

It wasn't a surprise to Boilermaker fans. All through his freshman season, Johnson had done this.

"There were moments as a freshman he had flashes of brilliance," Purdue assistant coach Paul Lusk said. "We thought it was a consistency thing."

A season later, his year can be encapsulated into two rounds of the NCAA Tournament again.

In the first GAME, Northern Iowa had no answer for him. He scored almost every time he tried. He was 7-for-10 from the field and finished with 14 points.

Two days later, Johnson was even better. He dropped a team-high 22 points, shot 9-for-17, grabbed five offensive rebounds and blocked four shots. Two of those rejections came in the final minute as the Boilermakers held off Washington for a two-point victory.

As the evidence proves, he doesn't just have moments anymore. Johnson's now playing well on a consistent basis.

"I've improved so much in a year," said Johnson, who averaged 5.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.0 blocks as a frosh. "I think everyone expected this out of me, but not this soon."

Lusk can confirm that. Purdue's staff thought Johnson would be an improved sophomore, but not to the point where he'd now be averaging 13.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and named to the Big Ten's first-team and all-defensive team.

"If you told us he was to be all-league, we didn't see it coming," Lusk said.

Johnson likes to think that he did.

As a freshman, he was as frustrated as anyone about his inconsistencies. He obviously enjoyed those instances where he was dunking on people, knocking away shots and a fixture on the floor for Boilermakers coach Matt Painter. Vice versa, he hated when he was a non-factor and had to watch from the bench as fellow freshmen Hummel and E'Twaun Moore starred for Purdue.

In the off-season, he decided he was going to do something about it. He worked on his post moves. He improved his outside shot. He made sure he could finish stronger around the basket. He got better defensively.

More than an improvement of skills, though, something began to click for Johnson mentally. He added a confidence that Purdue's coaches didn't see in him as a freshman.

"He realized how talented he was and how much of an impact he could have," Lusk said. "He's always been able to score around the basket. He's always had great touch. What he needed was the confidence he could do that."

That confidence could be on display in the NBA in the next few years: DraftExpress.com has him going to the League as a late first-round pick in 2010.

"The ceiling is very high," Lusk said. "He's just scratching the surface. The sky's the limit. He has all the ability in the world. He has a very well-rounded game. He makes free throws, makes jumpers, can score on the low block, can score in transition. Defensively, he's come a long way. He needs to improve his rebounding. There's no question; he's not a one-trick pony.

"I think by next year he's going to be a very difficult to deal with."

NBA scouts will certainly be interested to see how Johnson does against future Lottery Pick Hasheem Thabeet, a 7-3 center, and his frontcourt mate 6-7 Jeff Adrien when Purdue matches up with Connecticut in the Sweet 16. If the Boilermakers are going to upset the top-seeded Huskies, they will need a big night from their big man.

"We're playing two of the best players in the country," Lusk said. "We need JaJuan to be successful. He's got to rebound, he's got to defend, he's got to score."

Johnson understands that.

"I definitely think it's a really good challenge," he said. "Anytime you get a chance to play players like that, you get up for that. For our team to be successful, I need to be a presence on the court. I know I have a big challenge ahead of me."