"Do I believe he could be, if he keeps going the way he’s going, one of the major Next Stars in this thing? Absolutely."

2 Nov

Illawarra Hawks head coach Jacob Jackomas has backed NBA prospect AJ Johnson to become one of the standout performers amongst this season’s stacked group of Next Stars. 

Johnson, who joined the Next Stars program in April after de-committing from the University of Texas, endured an interrupted pre-season due to a broken nose.

The talented teen has since shown flashes of his prodigious talent, despite playing limited minutes across the first month of the NBL season. 

There have been calls from many outside the Hawks for Johnson to see increased opportunities, but Jackomas has preached patience in the 18-year-old's rise.

“[AJ] is a young man, but he’s doing all the right things off the floor and he’s becoming a better player,” Jackomas said.

“Do I believe that he’s going to grow in this role? Yes. Do I believe he could be, if he keeps going the way he’s going, one of the major Next Stars in this thing? Absolutely.”

Johnson produced multiple highlight-reel plays during an eye-catching stretch against Melbourne United a fortnight ago, with six points, two rebounds and an assist in just six minutes of action.

He's averaged about six minutes per game across five appearances so far this season, but is yet to surpass the 12 minutes he enjoyed in his NBL debut.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">How&#39;s that for a spark off the bench. AJ Johnson hits a pretty stepback with his first touch of the game ?<br><br>Catch the action live on ESPN via Kayo ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">October 20, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

But Johnson appears ready for an uptick in his playing time in the near future.

“In this league there’s chance and opportunity,” Jackomas added.

“There’s going to be opportunities and when he takes it, he takes it. He’s doing everything we ask … he’s tracking the right way.”

The Hawks are coming off an improved weekend that saw them snatch a win over Cairns and give Melbourne, the ladder-leaders, a scare.

Illawarra next takes the floor against the Sydney Kings on Friday, November 3 at 7:30pm AEDT.

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