Utah starting center Jayce Johnson is in the NCAA transfer portal, ESPN and other outlets reported Tuesday.
The 7-foot center, who averaged 7.1 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds this past season, is said to be weary of Larry Krystkowiak’s demanding style of coaching and would like a bigger offensive role, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned.
The move into the portal doesn’t necessarily mean Johnson will transfer, but enables other schools to contact him as he considers his options. Johnson’s teammates are encouraging him to stay at Utah, according to Alex Markham of Ute Nation on the Rivals network.
Krystkowiak is scheduled to do postseason media interviews later this week. Publicly, Krystkowiak praised Johnson’s attitude and effort at various times during the season. “He’s the easiest guy in the world for all of us to be cheering for,” he said in late January. “He may not be dazzling people right now with his offense, and we’d like to see those shots go in, but he’s really doing a hell of a job on the defensive end, rebounding and being a presence at the rim and he’s playing with a lot of energy. … If you respect the game and you’re focusing on those things, the offense will eventually come.”
Johnson’s departure would leave the Utes with three freshman post players in 2019-20: Lahat Thioune, who redshirted after breaking his foot in preseason practice; Branden Carlson, a returned missionary from Bingham High School; and 7-4 Matt Van Komen, of Pleasant Grove. Novak Topalovic backed up Johnson in 2018-19, as a senior.
Brandon Morley, who played in 16 games as a transfer from Salt Lake Community College, previously entered the transfer portal. So did guard Charles Jones Jr., who appeared in 27 games, having come from the College of Southern Idaho.
Johnson averaged 21.9 minutes, playing mostly as a starter in 29 games this past season as the Utes went 17-14. Due to an ankle injury, he missed Utah’s wins over USC and UCLA to conclude the regular season, but then played one of his better games in a loss to Oregon in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament. Johnson posted nine points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots against the Ducks, who reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.
The Southern California native’s other season highlights included 13 points and 13 rebounds in a win at USC and 17 points and 10 boards in a victory over Arizona at Huntsman Center. He also had 11 points and 13 rebounds in a home-court loss to Oregon.
Those breakout games partly illustrate Johnson’s offensive inconsistency, and the Pac-12 tournament game was a rare case of his providing much rim protection for a Ute defense that ranked in the bottom third of Division I in efficiency, according to the kenpom.com analytics.
Johnson took 5.0 field-goal attempts per game, almost all from close range, while shooting 59.7 percent. He shot only 40 percent from the free-throw line, missing opportunities to increase his scoring average.