Johnson takes Caliparis challenge to heart
The last 30 days haven't been Dakari Johnson's best.
The Kentucky sophomore's slump started in Columbia, S.C., in the Wildcats' first meeting this season with South Carolina, but it came to a close in Lexington for the rematch.
"Today he gets 13 rebounds, I believe," John Calipari said. "I mean, he went after every ball and he did it in 10 points, 13 rebounds, a double-double in 21 minutes."
It was a nice change of pace for Johnson, who's had to watch his teammates shine.
Since Jan. 24, Willie Cauley-Stein could open up a poster shop with all his jaw-dropping dunks, and Karl-Anthony Towns has been rising up NBA Draft boards.
In that stretch, Johnson averaged just 4.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and just 16.5 minutes in six games. But despite being the odd man out with regards to Kentucky's center position, Johnson wasn't jealous.
"I'm happy for my teammates no matter what," Johnson said. "They're going to have games like that. Some games I'm going to be more quiet than others so I'm just happy for them."
But it was a wakeup call. Seeing his teammates do well motivated him to get to their level, but the biggest wakeup call was his coach calling him out.
"Well, he hasn't been fighting, he hasn't been fighting in practice, in the games, letting the other guy outwork him," Calipari said. "Well, then he's not the same guy."
That's all it took for Johnson to realize wasn't playing his normal style of basketball.
Aggressive and physical.
"He's been telling me I haven't been fighting the way I was earlier in the year," Johnson said. "That's just the way I tried to do it during practice. What you do in practice is what you do in the games."
Over the past few days, Johnson has been an enforcer in practice. Calipari commented on the intensity of practices in that time span, and it's likely no coincidence that Johnson has been turning up the pressure.
It's also no coincidence that Johnson broke out of his slump to record only his second double-double at UK.
"I feel like I was playing a little timid…," Johnson said. "Getting into that (aggressive) mode and just being competitive each and every practice and that's going to translate to the games."
It did against the Gamecocks, and it didn't take long, once Johnson was on the floor.
Calipari didn't go to his usual platooning method after the first TV timeout, when Johnson normally enters the game. The starters were playing well and holding South Carolina to just a couple field goals before Calipari made the switch about seven minutes into the first half.
Johnson scored just seconds after entering the game and finished the first half with six points and seven rebounds in just nine minutes of game action.
"(I) loved it," Cauley-Stein said. "He's been working really hard the past couple weeks to get back to that. I mean, it's just on. I hope he builds off of it like our team needs him to build off of it. If he does it, it's just going to make us elevate that much more."
Some fans have speculated that Johnson's up-and-down sophomore season could be attributed to his significant weight loss during the offseason.
A bruiser last year, Johnson bullied his way in the paint to much success. This season it hasn't been as easy. Maybe Johnson has drawn more attention from opposing defenses, but he says the reason he isn't scoring as much is self-inflicted.
"That's on me," Johnson said. "I wasn't being as aggressive."
But after Calipari noticed, and noted, Johnson's lack of productivity, he's changed.
"I really took it to heart and I really changed that," Johnson said. "Just going into practice, going hard and just being aggressive and playing more aggressive."
Johnson doesn't expect to put up major numbers now that he's back to playing bully-ball, but he's back to being able to do his job and that helps the team.
"I'm just being more aggressive on the court, and that's what I'm expected to do," Johnson said.