When it was announced that Pittsburgh transfer guard John "Flipp" Johnson was going to continue his career at Penn State back in November 2012, I don't think Pat Chambers was expecting to receive as little return as he's gotten on the scholarship investment. Due to the NCAA's insanity, Johnson lost his sophomore year of eligibility by participating in one exhibition game before he decided Jamie Dixon's program was no longer the place for him. Since he willingly took part in this exhibition, he was not eligible to redshirt as he sat out the 2012-2013 season per the usual transfer rules. Penn State tried to appeal for a waiver to restore a year of Johnson's eligibility, but the NCAA denied the request.
So heading into the 2015 season, John Johnson is already a senior for Penn State, even though he has only played in 21 games as a Nittany Lion. His college career consists of being a true freshman backup on Pitt's worst team in the last decade, playing in one exhibition as a sophomore and what we got to witness last year for his junior campaign, once he became eligible after the fall semester. I don't think that's what the 2,314-point high school scorer envisioned for himself when he graduated in the 2011 high school class.
What should we expect from the soon-to-be 23-year-old Johnson in his final chance to make an impact at the college level? It's hard to say because Johnson simply hasn't played very much. He only has 304 points in his 1.5 year career and has logged less than 1,000 minutes.
Last season could be considered a disaster for Johnson. There was a reference made to Vinnie Johnson, the former Detroit Piston great, by his head coach when discussing his game, but he was anything but Vinnie Johnson for the Nittany Lions last season. The potential spark plug off the bench that could create instant offense for Penn State posted a horrendous 89.4 offensive rating (source: KenPom.com). He was a great source of forced shots, bad turnovers and never-ending frustration, putting the stamp on his season with a missed breakaway dunk in the Lions' 2-point loss to Siena in the CBI tournament.
However, there's no doubt becoming eligible halfway through the year was a hindrance on Johnson's development with the rest of his team. He lacked chemistry with most of his teammates, and he constantly forced the issue when the ball was in his hands. Many would describe Johnson's play last year as selfish, but it seemed obvious he knew his role was to simply score points, so he attempted plenty of maddening, erratic shots to do so. He was mostly ineffective.
It's hard to project exactly what Penn State is going to get from Johnson in 2015, but if he resembles anything to how he played last year, expect the coaching staff to move on quickly from this experiment. The Lions desperately need someone to emerge as D.J. Newbill's backcourt running mate this season, and Johnson's primary competitor for playing time has displayed a knack for tough defense (Geno Thorpe). If Flipp can't find his rhythm within the PSU offense, there won't be starter minutes for him.
Johnson's pedigree in high school suggests he can be a capable scorer, but he could really stand to improve his efficiency inside the arc. Johnson converted just 43.5% of his 2-point attempts last season, well below the D1 average of 48.5%. Not only is that a poor percentage, he was unsuccessful in getting to the foul line on those attempts. His 69 2-point shots [Ed. note - nice] yielded just 22 free throws attempted for a measly 16.3 free throw rate.
Of course, the Lions also desperately need some perimeter shooting from their backcourt, and that's seemingly where Johnson can help the most. But the streaky scorer is not your true spot-up shooter. It is not expected of him to camp out at the arc for catch-and-shoot opportunities, because that's not his game. He will likely hover around 35% from the perimeter as most streaky scorers often do (Talor Battle's career 3PT% = 34.1%).
Regardless, it's do-or-die this year for Flipp Johnson's college career. Let's just say I don't think Pat Chambers invested a scholarship for 1.5 years of erratic guard play. Here's to Flipp going out with a bang as vengeance for losing his sophomore year of eligibility to another absurd NCAA rule.