Jalen Johnson wants East Tennessee State basketball fans to know one thing. He has officially traded in his orange for the blue and gold.
Johnson, who transferred from Tennessee to play for ETSU during his final season, says he’s all-in as a member of the Bucs and he can’t wait to get started.
“First and foremost, I’m going to give my all for the program,” Johnson said. “That’s non-negotiable. I just want to tell the fans I’m here to give my all — provide energy, a good work ethic, outside shooting, athleticism, just competitive drive and leadership — and try to do whatever I can to impact winning at this program.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, graduated in December and comes to ETSU as a grad transfer. He will be eligible to play right away for a team coming off a 30-4 season.
Among the handful of schools showing interest once his name entered the transfer portal was Chattanooga. He said ETSU’s style of play under fifth-year coach Steve Forbes — visualizing himself as part of it — was one the things that attracted him to Johnson City.
“Obviously, the style of play is something that’s important to me in making this decision,” he said. “I think Coach Forbes does a good job of playing guys to their strengths and allowing you to showcase what you can do at a high level and also win at the same time, so I felt like that was a no-brainer.
“You wouldn’t want to go to a school where they’re telling you all this stuff and you go watch their game film and it doesn’t add up to what they’re telling you in the recruitment process.”
Johnson said he asked prospective suitors to send game video so he could see any potential new team in action. ETSU sent the LSU game, one in which the Bucs were leading by as many as 23 points in the second half in Forbes’ signature win.
“The Bucs played very well last year,” said Johnson, who is an artist when he’s not playing basketball. “I saw their success. I’ve also been conscious about their success in recent years being in Tennessee. That definitely played a part in my decision because winning is something that’s important to me as an athlete and as a competitor. And I know the Bucs are known for winning.”
ETSU led the SouthernConference in attendance last year, averaging more than 4,700 fans per game. That was 1,200 more than any other SoCon team. Johnson, while doing his homework, also noticed that.
“I know the Bucs have a great fan base,” he said. “I know there’s big-time support. They’re really passionate fans and I know they’re going to rally and be there for their players. I’m excited.”
Forbes spent five years as an assistant at Tennessee and he’s still well liked in Knoxville.
“Some of the coaching staff at Tennessee know Coach Forbes pretty well,” Johnson said. “They definitely helped me with the process. They kind of gave me opinions about coaches if I asked them about them. They had good things to say abut him. He’s a good coach. Obviously, he’s had a lot of success there. You can see he really cares about the relationship with his players. Those were things that appealed to me.”
For the Vols, Johnson averaged 3.5 points per game while playing about 15 minutes each night last season. He says he has a lot more to show when he gets on the court.
“I think there was a lot of things that I learned at UT and a lot of things that helped me grow as a player,” he said. “I do think I have a lot more to show than I have shown. I hope to showcase that with the Bucs.”