David Johnson is a 6-foot-5 combo guard from the Louisville Cardinals who is best known as both an excellent playmaker and strong defender.
After a strong freshman campaign in 2019-20, there was a lot of buzz for Johnson as a mid-first rounder heading into this season. While COVID-19 had a big impact on Louisville, he improved his three-point percentage from 21.7 percent during his first collegiate campaign to 38.6 percent this past season.
Johnson took some time to catch up with HoopsHype to discuss his recent performance at the NBA draft combine. He also touched on how he has been able to improve his game, what it’s like sharing a name with an NFL star and he even walked us through his interest in cars.
Please note this interview was minorly edited in its transcript for clarity.
What have you been doing with your time since the college basketball season ended?
DJ: I’ve been traveling from regular workouts in Los Angeles to team workouts. I’m working on transforming my body to get a stronger core, more explosiveness and increase my jumping ability. Then I was in Chicago for the combine. That was a really fun experience. It was one of the few times in my life that I’ve been able to play against the top competition. You couldn’t take a second off during those scrimmages.
I was around high-caliber guys the whole time, which I felt really comfortable with. That helped me during the games. Being outside of my comfort zone is where I find myself in my comfort zone because that’s when I learn the most about myself. All the things that you do in the gym don’t matter until you get on the court. So once you get put in those scenarios and get uncomfortable and someone is under your skin, that’s the best test for yourself. I do that. I test myself a lot.
You improved your jump shot and played off-ball as a sophomore. How do you feel you’ve improved your game?
DJ: After freshman year, you could only control what you could control. We had limited gym time. That was going to be a factor. But you have to make sure that you get better. I just wanted to make the best of the situation. You couldn’t keep yourself down. That will make the situation worse. Make the best out of every situation.
I always knew my shooting was going to get better. I knew my mechanics were coming along. I knew I was a good shooter. I just needed the repetition and that was my focus. That was one thing that I wanted to show that I could do: shoot the ball and space the floor a bit. Moving off the ball, I wanted to showcase I could do other things without even having the ball in my hands. Shooting and being a pest defensively are two things that I really improved on.
How do you pitch yourself when you are selling yourself to NBA teams?
DJ: On the court, I see myself as a two-way playmaking guard. I have a pretty good feel playing off the ball and I can move without the ball, screening and rebounding. I can make plays out of pick-and-roll situations. I can play defense on the other end. That’s one of the things that I take personally. I feel like I’m not in the game if I’m not competing defensively. I want to establish myself as someone who can really play and compete at the highest level. I can guard multiple positions. I want to help the team win in the best way that I can. I think those are the main things that I bring on the court.
Off the court, my teammates would say I’m pretty funny. I’m really calm, relaxed and even-keeled. I don’t really get too high or too low. I try to stay consistent with my attitude. I’m very coachable. I like to pick people’s brains and really get to know people. I think that carries along whether I’m playing basketball with them or not.
Who are some of your favorite players to watch when you’re studying the game?
DJ: I’ve recently been watching a lot of Derek Anderson because he is a mentor of mine. I’ve gotten to know him over the last few months. I’ve watched a lot of the ways that Luka Doncic has developed because he is a bigger guard with excellent playmaking. I love Jrue Holiday and the defensive angles that he takes. I’ve studied Magic Johnson, mostly his passing ability. I like Steve Nash. I can go on and on. I’m a huge fan of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
How did you first fall in love with basketball?
Love how David Johnson always has his head up looking for hit ahead opportunities in transition. pic.twitter.com/tVsr7Is0o1
— Will Morris (@w_a_morris) June 3, 2021
DJ: My oldest sister, Ashley, also played basketball. She was the reason that I picked up the ball. She would dominate me one-on-one! I took it upon myself to keep working. At first, my goal was just to beat her. After I beat her, I felt like I was on top of the world. [Laughs] Then I was like, who’s next? But as a kid, I just played for fun. I was better at it than I was at football. Plus, I was taking too many hits in football. So I definitely made the right choice.
As I got older, I was advancing myself a bit better than people my age. I learned how to get others involved instead of just dominating in the games. I saw how it took a team to win big. I always wanted to win and be a part of something bigger than myself. I started learning how to pass and get creative with the ways I would deliver the ball to my teammates. That carried along. Bringing others joy, seeing them put the ball in the basket, brings me joy.
What is one of the defining traits that would describe you the best?
DJ: I think loyalty is one of the things that I’ve always had. I don’t go into decisions thinking short-term. I always think of myself as being in that situation for a long period of time. When small things pop up that start to steer you away from something, I think about why I made the decision that I did. I know those obstacles are going to come sooner than later. But if you stay loyal and you’re just consistent and you keep doing the things that were happening that were positive before whatever happened, you’ll be fine. That carried on through high school and through college for me. I’m also a huge family guy. My mom and my sisters mean the world to me.
What are some of the things that you like to do when you’re not playing?
DJ: I have my close friends from high school. I talk to them. We catch up, like, every day. I’m a huge car guy. I love to research cars. I love driving. I’ve always had an interest since I was really young. I played Need For Speed as a kid and I still play to this day. It’s one of my favorite games and being able to customize cars and see the different builds and how they work. I’ve got a love for it. My perfect car would be an Audi RS Q8. That’s a nice SUV sport truck. It goes pretty fast. I love the sound of it and the technology in it. It’s pretty big!
Are there moments where it has been frustrating having the same name as a former NFL star?
DJ: My number has been No. 13 since I got to high school. So that’s been in my social media handles. His number is 31. So when you type in our name, we’re both going to pop up. I get tagged in a lot of his football stuff. There are people tagging me bashing him after NFL games and stuff like that because of fantasy football. People will be like, I want to get rid of David Johnson! [Laughs] I look at it as the most innocent person in the world because I have nothing to do with it.