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Jayce Johnson joins Utah basketball program as eligible freshman

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SALT LAKE CITY — Incoming freshman Jayce Johnson has officially joined the Utah basketball team, head coach Larry Krystkowiak announced Monday at his weekly press conference.

Johnson, a 6-foot-11 center from Santa Monica High School in Dana Point, California, committed to Utah in October and will be a solid frontcourt option should Utah choose to play him this season.

Krystkowiak said the team is committed to developing Johnson before throwing him into a situation that won't be beneficial to either him or the team.

"We want to do the right thing for him and the right thing for our program, so we don't have to commit to (playing)," Krystkowiak said. "I think the most important thing to remember is that this is giving him a jump on a freshman year, assuming we don't play him this year. It's nothing that we're committing to. He's just going to try to learn some of the offense and get his feet wet around here."

Krystkowiak added that as an incoming freshman, he expects Johnson to need some time to acclimate to a Division I operation. As a result, Utah may use the remainder of the season as a learning growing process before officially starting as a freshman next season.

"It's a process, as is the case with a lot of freshman: a lot of enthusiasm, lot of excitement, and then you're in the environment and then you go, 'wait a minute, this is a little bit harder than I thought,' " Krystkowiak said. "I think from a mental point of view Jayce is really excited; he's been sitting out for a while. I'm guessing he's chomping at the bit, but he gets to do a little bit of a workout with us today for the first time. It's perfect timing through the Christmas break with minimal games."

Johnson originally committed to Utah as a part of the 2016 class, but reclassified into the 2015 class and was eligible for a mid-season addition after graduating from Santa Monica High School early. Johnson will begin school in the Spring semester and is eligible to play moving forward should Utah choose to play him.

Krystkowiak said Johnson is a similar player to sophomore Jakob Poeltl, in that he's mobile, physical and willing to get after the ball despite his size.

"I've never seen, honestly, a 7-footer get on the floor as much as he does for loose balls," Krystkowiak said. "He runs extremely well, gets up and down the floor unlike a lot of 7-footers, a little bit like Jakob in the fact that he's not a selfish low-post player. I've seen in the last couple years him make great passes when he gets double teamed or when the opportunity arises. He's a solid, back-to-the-back post player and solid defender."

Johnson was ranked the No. 11-ranked center overall by ESPN as part of his recruiting class.

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