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Vols’ Jalen Johnson hopes added pounds make difference on court

By David Cobb • Updated Jun 29, 2017 at 12:30 PM

KNOXVILLE (TNS) – Sitting out the 2016-17 Tennessee basketball season as a redshirt brought challenges for Jalen Johnson.

It also produced results.

The 6-foot-5 wing from Durham, N.C. notices a difference when he attacks the basket now.

“When I was lighter, I would drive to the basket, if a guy came and bumped me off, I’d go off course,” Johnson said after his first game in this summer’s Rocky Top League at Knoxville Catholic High School. “Now I feel more adept at taking the blow and playing through it.”

Johnson arrived in Knoxville just more than a year ago weighing 168 pounds. Now the former three-star prospect weighs more than 190 pounds – 195 “on a good day,” he said.

The added muscle could help Johnson find his way onto the court as the Volunteers try to improve on last season’s 16-16 record.

As Rick Barnes prepares for his third season as Tennessee’s coach, he has added junior college transfer Chris Darrington and graduate transfer James Daniel III to the backcourt in hopes of solving some of the Vols’ scoring woes. But Johnson, who is five inches taller than Darrington and Daniel, is believed to be the most athletic of five newcomers who will suit up.

“Talking to Coach Barnes, he really wants me to work on my rebounding and defense,” said Johnson, the son of two former college track and field athletes. “He wants me to be more of a two-way player, not trying to do too much on offense and just working on it from a defensive standpoint and affecting the game that way with rebounds and stuff.”

Barnes praised Johnson’s athleticism when Johnson signed with the Vols in November 2015. A year later, the coach pointed to Johnson’s need to gain strength when announcing he would redshirt his first season on campus.

“From a competitive standpoint, it was kind of challenging, because you want to be out there with your team when they’re doing well and having fun competing every night,” Johnson said. “You’ve really got to self-motivate to go hard, lift weights, practice, work out and stuff. Just getting my body right to prepare for this year.”

The Rocky Top League, which started June 19 and ends July 3, has allowed Johnson to flash his improved physique publicly. The biggest stage is yet to come, however. Johnson believes Tennessee “could do something special this year.”

“If we all buy in,” he said. “I really feel like we can all help contribute to that.”

This time he will be among the players in uniform, throwing some new pounds toward that goal.

“I’m a lot more nervous now this year,” Johnson said. “I was nervous coming in, and once I redshirted I kind of got the chance to sit back and work on myself and work on preparing myself for this season. So there’s a little nervousness and a little anxiety.”

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