In high school, minutes were never in short supply for Johnny Juzang. The current Kentucky freshman was a varsity starter for all three years he spent playing at the pre-college level. He reclassified to the class of 2019 so he could skip his senior season in favor of signing with the Wildcats.
Despite the fact that Juzang should be a high school senior right now playing back at Harvard-Westlake, he’s still appeared in all 10 of Kentucky’s games this season. But the minutes haven’t been as copious as they once were.
The 18-year old is playing in fewer than 12 minutes per game and has struggled to find his shooting stroke as a result. Juzang has attempted 13 three-point shots this season – tied with Nate Sestina for fourth-most on the roster – connecting on just two of those looks.
Only twice this season has Juzang hit the 20-minute mark; 20 minutes in a 91-49 win over EKU (0 points, 0-4 shooting) and 23 minutes against Farleigh Dickinson (4 points, 1-5 shooting). There have been four outings where he’s played under 10 minutes.
Just a year removed from being the best player on his high school team, Juzang is in a completely different situation and it’s forcing him to change his mindset. He knows he doesn’t have the ability to shoot his way out of shooting slumps anymore.
“Its a challenge for sure but it’s such a good one,” Juzang told the media on Friday on the challenge of finding his shot. “I’m just a big believer in putting yourself in adversity and that’s another challenge that it’s been for me here. You can’t just shoot out of slumps. Before [in high school] I didn’t have to develop a good mindset I could just shoot and keep shooting… I can’t just shoot myself out of it, I’m not going to shoot 16 shots.”
In Kentucky’s last two games against Utah and Georgia Tech, Juzang combined to play just seven minutes with only one shot attempt.
Juzang came to Lexington with a reputation as an elite shooter. The showcase he put on display during Kentucky’s Pro Day before the season exhibited just how quick and accurate his jump shot is. He says that the shooting issues are stemming from his mentality more than anything.
“Really it’s just a mental thing,” Juzang said about his slump. “Just staying confident and relaxed, honestly… Just figuring out a mindset and things that help you mentally to shoot.”
With a big game against No. 5 Ohio State less than 24 hours away and No. 3 Louisville a few days after that, Kentucky will need to be at its best at all times. Every second of those two games will be extremely valuable. Juzang can’t afford to try and play his way out of a slump, but his team will need his best effort if he does step on the floor. If it’s taking a wide-open jumper, he has to pull it, no matter what the result might be. Not taking the shot would only hurt his confidence and the team’s offense.
“Staying confident and staying loose are the two biggest things,” Juzang continued. “You just gotta keep shooting.”