PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Austin Johnson’s last game as a Rutgers basketball player, and arguably his best, will not be the end of his career as a Scarlet Knight.
After nearly leading a comeback against Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden with 18 points and six rebounds, Johnson renewed his Rutgers career by becoming a graduate assistant in the first year under Eddie Jordan.
Similarly to Jordan, who began his coaching career as a Rutgers assistant, Johnson has sights on a similar career.
“There is so much that I need to learn,” Johnson said. “There are so many ins and outs – recruiting, Xs and Os, discipline. It’s crazy that I didn’t see these things.
“Now that I’m on this side, I look back to when I was playing and I see why people were frustrated with me or certain things that I did. I get why you would be frustrated as a coach if you don’t perform a certain way. I just want to take this opportunity to learn.’
Following his spring graduation from Rutgers, Johnson decided to pursue graduate school but did not have any basketball work lined up. He wanted to stay at Rutgers because of his positive experiences as a player and the persistence paid off in the first summer under Jordan.
“I was kind of at a crossroads,” Johnson said. “Do I still want to play? Do I want to involve myself around the game? I felt more comfortable pursuing a higher degree of education. I felt really comfortable with this staff. Honestly, I was a little anxious. I stayed around the program. Luckily I got to know coach Jordan and he was onboard. I’m really thankful for that opportunity.”
Jordan said he liked the idea of having another “Rutgers guy” around the program, which made Johnson a good fit for the role. Johnson decided early in Jordan’s tenure that he wanted to coach and had to be persistent to earn an opportunity and interview.
“Whenever they had workouts, I would just be there,” Johnson said. “When he was around the RAC, I’d try to catch him here and there. I finally got a chance to sit down and talk to him and I told him I would love the opportunity to learn. It’s not just him. It’s the whole staff. There are some great basketball minds and it’s been great for me.”
Johnson was stuck as a spectator during the ugly offseason for the basketball program and coaching turnover. As a four-year Scarlet Knight, Johnson wants to be there when Rutgers turns the corner with Jordan.
“In my playing years, we had a lot of ups and a lot of downs,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily have the success I wanted to have as a player, but it would mean just as much to me if I were here as a coach.”
In practices, Johnson helps with the post players and works as a referee in scrimmage situations. Johnson said he is happy to fill any role for Jordan as he continues to learn the ropes as a graduate assistant.
“He’s really down to earth,” Johnson said. “That’s what surprised me. He has such an impressive resume. He’s coached in the NBA. He’s played in the NBA. He’s one of the true faces of Rutgers basketball. For me to be able to be around him and just soak it all in, it’s really been great for me. I don’t take it for granted at all.”