Men’s Basketball: Brandon Johnson’s veteran presence guides team through difficult stretch


Nate Burleyson

Brandon Johnson throws down a two-handed dunk against Central Michigan on Nov 13.

DePaul is considered a young team due to roster turnover that includes nine additions from the transfer portal to fill out first-year head coach Tony Stubblefield’s arrival to Lincoln Park.. However, within this young team are some experienced players that bring veteran presences to aid in establishing a new culture.

As one of those players, graduate forward Brandon Johnson plays a critical role that has kept the team afloat throughout their ups and downs so far this season.

Johnson had a roller coaster journey throughout his college basketball career before arriving at DePaul. Coming from Western Michigan and Minnesota, Johnson’s exposure on the court has given him wisdom that he has always been appreciative of. But none of it can compare to coming home to play for his hometown team.

“Growing up, I kind of always wanted to play for DePaul because it’s the hometown team,” Johnson said. “My mom is an alum of the university, so I had connections with the university growing up. I always felt like I was a high-major player. All my hard work got me here to a situation that I dreamed of as a kid. I’m truly blessed for the opportunity.”

Johnson has taken advantage of his opportunity to start for the Blue Demons, but his role became even bigger when senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty went down due to a groin injury.

Johnson was on the floor when he noticed Freeman-Liberty’s injury. He went to check on Freeman-Liberty to see if he can still play. When Freeman-Liberty told him that he was not able to continue playing,, Johnson’s leadership instincts kicked in, ensuring Freeman-Liberty that the team had his back.

“Stuff happens in basketball,” Johnson said. “I experienced injuries myself. It’s a tough thing, but the other team is not going to care, so we gotta fight through it regardless of what happens in the game. That’s the mindset we’ve been going through every game.”

Since Freeman-Liberty’s injury, the team has lost five of its last six conference games. Throughout that stretch, the team has struggled to consistently perform, starting games off strong, oftentimes leading after the first half, before sinking into offensive lapses that ultimately change the outcomes of games. Johnson understands the offensive struggles and believes that if the team can stay focused on playing a full 40-minute game, the offensive dry spells will subside.

“We cannot take our foot off the gas pedal just because we are up five or six points,” Johnson said. “Other teams don’t do that against us, so it doesn’t make sense for us to do that to them. As long as we play a full 40-minute game and keep our minds focused on each and every possession, then the whole situation will change.”

While the team is resolving their offensive struggles, Johnson has been adamant in being a vocal leader, highlighting that communication is the key to keeping the morale of the team afloat in a positive way.

“A lot of the issues on the floor can get solved with just communication,” Johnson said. “Every little thing matters and I feel like I’ve been able to improve everybody’s morale. It’s all about keeping a positive mindset and that’s what I’ve been really stressing with them in the beginning of the season and as of late.”

Johnson is oftentimes called the “OG” or “pops” of the team because of the leadership and experience he provides. Sophomore guard Jalen Terry expressed his appreciation for Johnson, elaborating on how he encourages him throughout games, including being more vocal.

“He always motivates me,” Terry said. “If I make a mistake he’ll tell me to shake it off and move on to the next play. I try to pass that same message to others. [Johnson] is a warrior. You cannot knock him down. He is going to come back and keep fighting.”

Stubblefield praised Johnson for his leadership throughout the tough stretch, highlighting his leadership as one of the top reasons why he recruited him to DePaul.

“[Johnson] is an older, experienced guy,” Stubblefield said. “When I was recruiting, that is something I was looking for; a guy that can provide some leadership, has been through some of these challenges that we were going to have to go through. That is what he has really been for our guys on this team and younger guys especially because he has experienced it.”

Stubblefield said that he is uncertain of the timeline for Freeman-Liberty’s potential return. As someone that has experienced comebacks from injuries, Johnson understands that when a player comes back, the mentality does not always match the abilities on the floor right away.

If Freeman-Liberty does come back this season, Johnson’s leadership will not change. He will do whatever it takes to make sure Freeman-Liberty can get back into the groove he was in prior to the injury, including speaking words of affirmation that can boost Freeman-Liberty’s confidence.

“That’s what I’m here for and that’s what my teammates are here for,” Johnson said.

Along with the encouraging words, Johnson’s faith continues to be a firm foundation within his beliefs. He is encouraged by the team’s recent progression, improving on the team’s communication amongst other areas. He has faith in the team moving forward, believing that as long as they continue to improve on certain areas, the team will be fine.

“We are doing a great job of communicating and as of late with preparation, attention to detail in film, talking more on the floor and in practice when you’re not in a drill,” Johnson said. “Small things like that help us overall. As long as we communicate, everything will be fine.