KD Johnson trots out of the players tunnel onto the shiny hardwood court at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, calm and collected as he breezes through the pregame layup lines.
He remains reserved amidst consistent roars from droves of Auburn fans; in fact, outside of sparsely placed high fives to teammates, the old Tigers guard almost comes across as stoic.
If Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl is right about Johnson’s horrible poker face, he’s clearly chosen a laid-back approach to open the NCAA tournament against Jacksonville State on Friday.
“If you ever want to know what he’s thinking,” Pearl said of Johnson. “Just look at his face.”
But just when you think you’ve got Johnson pegged, he walks onto the court just before the opening tip and starts to bob his head to the music blasting through the speakers.
Suddenly, his eyes widen, and he begins to scowl and sway side to side while bouncing to the beat.
Two minutes in, Johnson scores the first basket of the game, a layup off a slipped screen, and the powder keg that is the 6’0 ”, 205-pound point guard explodes.
He belts out a deafening scream and grimaces at the contingent of Auburn fans on the north side of the arena while high-stepping and pounding his chest on the sprint back down the court.
“He’s a maniac,” Pearl said. “But he’s my maniac.”
The only crazy thing about Johnson’s game in No. 2 Auburn’s 80–61 win over the No. 15 Gamecocks was his all-around impact on and off the stat sheet.
Johnson posted 10 points, five rebounds, seven assists and just one turnover in 30 minutes, a stark contrast from his non-scoring, 0-of-14 performance in the Tigers’ 67–62 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC tournament.
“It was very big,” Johnson said of scoring the opening basket. “I had struggled the last game and coming into this game I was focused on the win, so when I got a bucket that just turned us up in all areas.”
That’s why it didn’t matter minutes later when his first three-pointer of the game rimmed out. Johnson simply glanced over at the Auburn bench and smiled while jogging back on defense.
He drained his next two threes to help extend the Tigers’ lead, his customary untucked jersey flapping in the wind as he darted back downcourt.
Scroll to Continue
“I feel like it’s sucking my stomach when I shoot,” Johnson said. “I took it out to make it feel like a little looser.”
Bigger than Johnson’s shot-making ability was his overall floor game.
He controlled the pace, found the open man, picked up his spots well and constantly kept Jacksonville State’s guards uncomfortable with his defensive pressure.
Johnson doesn’t bring energy, he Shoo energy.
He’s the guy that smacks your hand way too hard on the high five after a big play, celebrates more than his teammates for their own highlights and knocks you back on flying chest bumps.
Jabari Smith hits a fadeaway jumper? Johnson sprints over to him and screams “No one can check you!” in his face.
Walker Kessler throws down a putback dunk? Johnson smacks the top of his head while simultaneously screaming “On his head!”
Allen Flanigan drains a three-pointer? Johnson turns to the Auburn fans and screams to the top of his lungs while giving them the death stare.
Even toward the end of regulation, during a heated discussion on the sideline and the game virtually decided, Johnson was first off the bench to chest bump Smith on the baseline after his poster dunk over Brandon Huffman.
“Oh my goodness, did you see that?” Johnson said. “He never did that in practice. That’s the first time he showed that he could get that high, so that was crazy. ”
With No. 10 Miami looming after its 68–66 win over No. 7 USC, Johnson knows it’ll take a similar “wow” effort from him for the Tigers to advance. He’s aware that he’ll have to be Pearl’s “maniac” once again; an effortless transition since he and the on-court competitive madman are one in the same.
“I can be crazy and be myself,” Johnson said. “I’m on this team; he wanted me here and I wanted to be here all along so he lets me play how I play and that’s how I have fun. ”
More College Basketball Coverage:
• Caitlin Clark Is College Basketball’s Box-Office Draw
• How Florida Found Its Way Back to the NCAA Tournament
• To Send Coach K Out on Top, Duke Has Some Things to Fix
• March Madness Faced a Gender Reckoning. Now Everyone Gets a Pasta Station — but What Else?