'13-'14 YEAR IN REVIEW: Ronnie Johnson
Note: This is the second of the postseason Year In Review series. Click that shiny link to see them all. They will recap their 2013-2014 season, show their "GIF of the Year", state my favorite nicknames, and give a best/worst case scenario for next season. I'll come out with these semi-regularly...probably. 2013-2014 season recap
So much potential. Such inconsistent production. A past-tense Boiler.
Unfortunately, those are the defining words that will follow RJ to his next collegiate destination. The 5’10” guard from Indy’s North Central High School followed his older brother Terone to God’s Country, and was given the reigns of Purdue’s offense immediately (maybe out of desperation/lack of other options, but still). For some reason, RJ butted heads with Coach Painter, and was discouraged by the ‘minimal’ trust CMP had in his point guard to lead.
For the record, Ronnie started in 59 of the 66 games played in black and gold.
Now, to be fair, we have no idea what really went on behind the scenes. We have small whispers from inside the program, anecdotes from those close to the program, and quotes from RJ and his family…but we really don’t know what happened. It does appear like there was a fundamental disagreement with RJ’s role balance between facilitator and scorer…but all we know is that RJ will (probably) join the long list of departures from the 2013-2014 Purdue basketball roster.
From all of the quotes given after RJ was granted permission to talk to these other programs, it seems like he was a fairly likeable guy who got along with most of his teammates and continues to remain friends with many in the program. In a pre-NBA decision interview GBI conducted with AJ Hammons, the big fella said that he was “shocked” at the RJ news, but he respects the decision and didn’t have a problem with it. From the interviews other players have given on the subject, it seems like these feelings fairly represent most of the locker room.
On the flip side, it looks like many of Coach Painter’s “selfish players” post-game quotes were directed at RJ, and that’s got to be a little demoralizing for any young point guard. I’m not a huge fan of calling players out through the media, but it’s worked in the past (CMP’s comments on LewJack and Kramer generated positive on-court responses). RJ didn’t seem to take these well, however, and continued to launch contested long-twos seemingly out of spite.
The true shame of RJ’s opposition to a facilitator role is his undeniable ability to produce highlight-reel passes. Take a look at that gif below…that type of pass would appear once a game, proving that RJ possessed every bit of the four-star rating scouts assessed coming out of high school. This doesn’t even begin to address his unbelievable speed in transition, and the ways it can be harnessed with an aggressive defense. Unfortunately, his feuds with the coaching staff compounded with an apparent mistrust of his teammates (on the court) resulted in too many hero-ball possessions. I entered this season saying that RJ’s growth was one of three keys to the season (along with TJ’s shooting and AJ’s dominance)…and, unfortunately for us, the Boilers’ massively disappointing year points to near-failures across the board.
Looking forward at the Boilers’ point guard situation, the ball-handling burden falls immediately to Bryson Scott and newcomer PJ Thompson. Most people (including Hammons) are expecting a few bumps along the road for Bryson, which is completely understandable considering his role last year was as the bench energy guy and garbage-time ball handler. Things will get real when Bryson starts to face starting-level Big Ten talent. Similarly, I’m not sure we can expect PJ Thompson to be an instant-impact point guard, but his abilities as a distributing pure point guard fits well with Hammons and the many (possible) perimeter threats on the roster next year. Also look for Painter to fashion some creative lineups, with Ray Davis, Kendall Stephens, and Vince Edwards grabbing some of the playmaking away from the traditional point guard role.
GIF of the Year
Nicknames: RJ, RonJon(Gone)
Unsolicited BS Advice for 2014-2015
Find happiness. It seems like RJ is being pulled in every direction by those around him, but he needs to find a situation that makes him truly happy on and off the court. He needs to find teammates he can trust, and a coaching staff that reaches him the way Coach Painter could (or, maybe would) not.
On the basketball side: First, RJ should spend all of his year off improving his shooting stroke and identifying the quality of his attempted jumpers. Learning to not hijack possessions is a skill all maturing point guards develop at their own pace (see: bad Russell Westbrook), and RJ would be a real asset to his future team if he develops this vision. And second, embrace the role of a slashing distributor. If RJ can identify exactly where perimeter defenses crash down as he drives, he can harness that highlight-passing ability to create open looks for his teammates.
RJ could grow into the engine of a great offense, but unfortunately it won’t be housed in Mackey Arena.
BEST/WORST: Remember, this is the top and bottom of the spectrum. The most likely scenario is somewhere in the middle. (Worst case scenarios come with a complimentary side of ACL tears.)
Best case: RJ takes a complete 180, playing a self-made and heartfelt mixtape at Coach Painter’s bedroom window. He completely wins CMP’s heart with a touching karaoke rendition of “If I Could Turn Back The Hands of Time” by R. Kelly. RJ returns to Purdue, and regains the trust of his teammates by organizing a late-night fountain run and weekly Apples-To-Apples bonding sessions. He completely fulfills his potential as a Jason Williams-lite, leading Purdue to two straight high-Big Ten finishes and becomes the heart and soul of this transitioning roster. Truly becomes LewJack 2.0, and enjoys a long professional basketball career in Europe.
Worst case: For Purdue? RJ transfers to already-strong Cincinnati (finished #22 this year), becomes Mark Cronin’s dream fast-paced point guard from 2015 to 2017, and leads Cincy to consecutive (and fictional-sounding) American Athletic Conference titles and deep tournament runs. Helps create another strong Midwest recruiting school to pull prospects from under Purdue’s nose. Rinse and repeat this scenario for the Xavier possibility. For RJ? He transfers to Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers or Kelvin Sampson's Houston Cougars, and bench-warms for a year before getting minimal backup minutes for a team 9 or 15 hours away from his Indy home. Pearl/Sampson gets embroiled in another recruiting scandal in 2016, and RJ ends up playing minimal minutes on a sanction-riddled squad.
Clearly we were mistaken, Ronnie is moving into politics. #RJ2014