‘I’ve Been Growing Constantly’: Q&A With Tennessee’s Keon Johnson

by March 22, 2021

Chances are high that anyone who has followed college basketball this season has seen a clip of Keon Johnson doing something ridiculously athleticfrom electrifying dunks to the acrobatic way he blocks an opponent’s shot. A 6-foot-5 freshman forward for Tennessee, Johnson, who averaged 11.2 points this season, has rocketed up mock draft boards and is widely projected as a 2021 lottery pick.

While his Tennessee squad lost to the No. 12-seeded Oregon State on Friday in the first round of the 2021 NCAA tournament, Johnson finished with 14 points, two assists, and six boards. Many are speculating where Johnson will take his talents next, whether that’s suiting up for the Vols next season, or entering his name in the Draft.

Only time will tell, but until then, learn more about Johnson, how his freshman season went, and more.  

(This interview has been edited for length clarity.)

SLAM: How did this season go for you?

Keon Johnson: It started slowly. But things started to pick up as the season went on and I got more comfortable. 

SLAM: Was there a specific adjustment you made that led to that change?

KJ: I feel like, throughout the whole season, I’ve been growing constantly but it really went to another level over the last few games and even during the SEC Tournament. 

SLAM: What was making you uncomfortable?

KJ: Just coming in as a freshman, trying to find my footing, where I fit on the team, things like that. I feel like now I’ve found my place. But also, everyone at this level was “the guy” coming out of high school, so you’re competing against those types of guys. The level of play is just completely different. And the pace is so different. 

SLAM: Were you a different player in high school 

KJ: Yeah. I shot a ton of 3s, I’d have the ball in my hands the majority of the game.

SLAM: When did you feel like things clicked for you this year?

KJ: I feel like after the Kentucky game [Johnson scored 27 points in an 11-point win] I really started to find who I am as a player. After that it felt like things opened up for me. I feel like as a player I’m an inside-out player and that game showed it and helped me bring that to this level.

SLAM: Let’s talk dunking—when was the first time you dunked?

KJ: My first time dunking was when I was seventh grade, but my first time dunking in a game was the summer of eighth grade. One of my teammates had gotten a steal and was running down the left lane and I was running down the right lane and he threw a perfect alley-oop, but I barely got it in. I hung on the rim, though, to make it look better than it was. 

SLAM: Do you remember the first time you dunked on someone?

KJ: No, but in high school there were no more lay-ups—everything was a dunk pretty much. I felt like everybody in the crowd wanted to see me dunk.  

SLAM: What’s something about you that you think people would be surprised to learn?

KJ: I love to fish. Anyone who knows me knows if I’m not playing basketball I’m probably somewhere fishing, or trying to get in someone’s boat to go fishing.

SLAM: How old were you when you started?

KJ: I was really young. Fishing runs in my family. 

SLAM: What’s the biggest fish you’ve ever caught?

KJ: Probably a 30-pound catfish. 

SLAM: What is it you love about fishing?

KJ: It’s educational. It’s taught me a lot.

SLAM: Like what?

KJ: Like that you need to have patience. I try to apply in all areas of my life.


Yaron Weitzman is an NBA reporter and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter, @YaronWeitzman.