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Jalen Johnson, Duke freshman and potential NBA lottery pick, ends his college career
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Jalen Johnson, Duke freshman and potential NBA lottery pick, ends his college career

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In this photo from January 23, 2021, Jalen Johnson of the Duke Blue Devils shoots the ball against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on January 23, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Johnson decided to declare for the NBA Draft and no longer play for the Blue Devils this season.

In this photo from January 23, 2021, Jalen Johnson (1) of the Duke Blue Devils shoots the ball against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on January 23, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Johnson decided to declare for the NBA Draft and no longer play for the Blue Devils this season. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images/TNS)

Jalen Johnson is ending his Duke career early.

The freshman, named a preseason all-ACC selection back in November, met with coach Mike Krzyzewski and decided to declare for the NBA Draft and no longer play for the Blue Devils this season, the school confirmed Monday night.

“I appreciate everything about my time at Duke,” Johnson said in a statement released by Duke. “Coach K, my teammates and the program have been nothing but supportive throughout this season, especially during the rehab of my foot injury. My family, Coach and I have made the decision that I should not play the remainder of this season so I can be 100 percent healthy in preparation for the NBA Draft. This was not easy but we feel it’s best for my future. I have nothing but love for the Brotherhood and thank my teammates and everyone associated with the program. Duke will always have a special place in my heart and will always be a part of me.”

The news was first reported by Zagsblog.com.

Johnson played 11 games for Duke this season, missing three games and most of another with a foot injury in December and January. He is remaining in school and will continue to receive treatment from Duke’s staff until he hires an agent.

“While we are encouraged by what we are seeing medically, for Jalen’s future, we believe this decision is in his best interest,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “We are ultimately careful with every one of our players and will continue to support Jalen as he progresses toward his goal of playing professional basketball. He deserves to be fully healthy for the upcoming NBA Draft.”

The 6-9 forward averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Blue Devils. Though healthy, he was out of the starting lineup for Duke’s last three games. In Saturday’s 69-53 win at N.C. State, Johnson played only eight minutes and scored three points, all on free throws.

After the game, Krzyzewski said Johnson’s limited minutes had nothing to do with any injury but that freshmen Jaemyn Brakefield and Henry Coleman handled the game better.

“Today it was really physical,” Krzyzewski said. “We had him in there a couple of times and he was knocked back. I would have put him back in but Jaemyn and Henry, it didn’t knock them back.”

In the same comments, Krzyzewski said he “had confidence in him. We are going to keep working with him and he’ll have opportunities.”

But Johnson, projected to be a top-10 pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, decided not to pursue those opportunities with the Blue Devils. After discussions with Krzyzewski the last two days, he’s turning his attention to draft preparation.

A skillful forward from Milwaukee, Johnson had two standout performances for the Blue Devils. He scored 19 points and grabbed 19 rebounds in his debut, when Duke beat Coppin State, 81-71, on Nov. 25.

In his first full game back from missing time due to his foot injury, he produced 24 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and four blocked shots when Duke lost at Pittsburgh, 79-73, on Jan. 19.

Since he returned, Duke’s medical staff continued to monitor the condition of his foot. Duke has not disclosed the nature of his injury. He had an MRI exam on Feb. 7, the day after Johnson scored 14 points in 25 minutes of play in Duke’s 91-87 loss to North Carolina.

On Feb. 9, Krzyzewski said that exam showed improvement in the foot’s condition since December.

That said, Johnson’s last start was in Duke’s 77-75 loss at Miami on Feb. 1. He played 26 minutes that night, scoring 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting.

Mark Williams, a 7-0 freshman center, replaced Johnson in the starting lineup for Duke’s three games since that loss. Williams scored 13 points with three rebounds and five blocked shots against N.C. State on Saturday.

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