Justin Johnson rejoins WKU basketball team

By  | 

Western Kentucky senior Justin Johnson has rejoined the basketball program, the school announced Sunday.

Johnson, from Hazard, practiced with the football team in the spring, summer and for the past week. He had planned on rejoining the basketball program as a walk-on in December.

“From the beginning, we wanted to help Justin in this pursuit to see if playing football was the right opportunity for him and his future," WKU's first-year coach Mike Sanford said in a statement. "Ultimately, Justin decided that returning to the basketball court was in his best interest, and we are fully supportive of him in that decision.

"He was a tremendous teammate and addition to our locker room during his time with the program. We look forward to supporting Justin and the rest of the basketball team this upcoming season.”

One of six tight ends on the WKU football roster, Johnson was to be on a football scholarship during the 2017-18 athletic calendar. Instead he'll be on a basketball scholarship once again and will travel with the Hilltoppers to Costa Rica on Monday for a preseason trip that includes three exhibition games.

He spoke as recently as Tuesday about being a football player.

“I was just happy to get back healthy. That’s the main thing. Been battling injury after injury it feels like,” Johnson said. “I just got released three weeks ago to go full-go again, so I’m just happy to be back out here.

“I’ve learned quick – a lot of stuff quick. It’s been a great opportunity to be out here learning from coach (Ryan) Mahaffey and then (senior tight end Deon) Yelder and bunch of the guys that’s been in the system learning the offense before I got here.”

The addition of Johnson on scholarship completes WKU's basketball roster for the 2017-18 year. Rick Stansbury had one available scholarship after the departure over the summer of freshman guard Damari Parris, but his team was thin in the front court after freshman Mitchell Robinson asked last week for his release.

Johnson (6-7, 240) will join senior Dwight Coleby and redshirt-sophomore Moustapha Diagne in the post. Center Robinson Idehen is expected to join the program and be eligible at the end of the school's fall semester.

"I called and wished him good luck with the start of practice Monday," Stansbury said Friday about Johnson. "He's big and strong and I couldn't imagine anybody being much bigger and stronger and more athletic."

Johnson has averaged 11.5 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game in 58 games on the basketball court. The Perry County Central High School graduate will begin his senior year tied with Mike Prince for 36th on WKU’s all-time scoring list with 1,120 career points.

He needs 84 points to move into the top 30 in WKU history and 568 to enter the top 10. Johnson has scored at least 464 points each of the past two seasons.

Two rebounds short of 700 for his career, Johnson needs 159 more to finish in the top 10 for rebounds in a WKU career. His 24 career double-doubles is the most since Sergio Kirsch also tallied 24 from 2008-11.

Johnson will have one year of football eligibility if he chooses to use it after this basketball season.

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop