Bryan Penn-Johnson; Redshirt Freshman; Long Beach, California
7’0, 245 lbs. Class of 2018: 3 stars, #174 overall (247 Composite)
Italy Exhibition Stats: 15.6 minutes, 4.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 75% FG, 25% FT
When Coach Hopkins arrived in Seattle he took a look at the roster he was inheriting. The first thing he probably noticed was that it included a lot of lanky 6’6 wings that are perfect for the front of his zone defense. So far so good. Then he looked at the big men on the roster and recoiled in shock and horror. Noah Dickerson (more of a center in a power forward’s body), Sam Timmins (a center but not a particularly long or athletic one) and... That was it. So he got out on the recruiting trail to try to find the prototypical center and he didn’t do much searching after laying eyes on BPJ.
With his 7’7 wingspan and good enough athleticism for a man that size there’s no question that BPJ has the physical tools necessary to become the best defensive center the Huskies have had since Robert Upshaw (it hurts every time I think of what could’ve been if his head had been on straight). It looked like BPJ was ready to get spot minutes for last year’s team as the 3rd string center before a foot injury kept him out for a prolonged period and the staff decided instead to preserve his redshirt and roll with more Hameir Wright at center.
It was evident from the outset that BPJ would be a work in progress on this end of the floor. It’s incredibly rare to find a young big man with his dimensions that is fluid and dynamic on the offensive end. And if you do then they’re almost assuredly bolting to the NBA immediately.
At no point during his high school career was Penn-Johnson even close to a primary offensive option for his team. You’re basically never going to see him attempt a shot from further than 5 feet away from the basket and if you do then rest assured that Hop will chew him out for it once he’s back on the bench. But I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the offensive versatility he displayed in Italy (relatively speaking).
At least once a game BPJ was able to score on a 5 foot hook shot which looks pretty unguardable given his length. Of course, given the levels of competition the team faced that defender was normally no bigger than 6’6 and was in no position to contest that shot. We’ll see in a higher stakes setting against better competition if BPJ stays collected enough to put the proper touch on that attempt. If he can reliably do so then it’s a nice boost.
The majority of BPJ’s points will still come via the dunk. I’m still not convinced that BPJ has the ball skills and body control necessary to dunk through contact very often but if you give him an unobstructed view of the cup then he can slam it down with authority. In one of the games in Italy he collected an offensive board and threw it down so hard that it visibly bent the rim.
There are enough scorers on the current roster that if for now BPJ can’t do anything other than clean up the trash with an occasional post up possession here or there then that’s ok.
You would certainly hope that Penn-Johnson becomes an absolute game wrecker on this side of the ball but he still isn’t quite there yet. It appears to be more of a mental issue than a physical one. If BPJ simply stands in the lane with his hands outstretched he will definitely influence a number of shots. But there are still other responsibilities within the zone.
Where BPJ struggles is in the read and react situation to determine whether he should come out to challenge a player rising for a 12 footer or to stay at home because a backdoor cut is coming behind him for what will be an easy dunk if he leaves his feet. That’s going to take time with someone as raw as Bryan. But I expect to see moments this season when someone tries to challenge him at the rim and gets the ball volleyball spiked into oblivion or tries for a jumper only to have BPJ’s arms stretch to the skies to get a fingertip on it.
I’ve also been a little disappointed with his skill set as a defensive rebounder. There were a lot of defensive rebounds available in Italy and BPJ did not collect very many of them. He played the same number of minutes as the 6’5 RaeQuan Battle and averaged fewer rebounds. In about 1.5 minutes less per game than fellow Redshirt Freshman Nate Roberts, BPJ averaged nearly 7.5 fewer rebounds. It just doesn’t appear that BPJ has the basketball instincts of a great rebounder. That’s ok. Not everyone does and being that big will be good enough a lot of the time. However, until he proves otherwise I expect it to a legitimate weakness to his game especially against premium competition.
Expectations for 2019-20
The Huskies have up to 5 different players that theoretically could man the middle in their zone defense this season. Isaiah Stewart, Nate Roberts, and Hameir Wright all have the flexibility to play either center or a wing spot if needed while Sam Timmins and BPJ are strictly centers. It means we’ll never see BPJ and Timmins both out there at the same time but Hopkins wasn’t averse to playing minutes with BPJ at the 5 and Stewart or Roberts at the 4. The Dickerson/Timmins pairing was a disaster largely because neither could hit a jump shot which made the offensive spacing untenable. BPJ’s playing time will be dictated by how well he’s able to play around the 4’s on the offensive end.
I think the season long numbers for BPJ, at least from a playing time standpoint, will be in the same neighborhood of last season’s Sam Timmins. However, BPJ clearly has a higher defensive upside than Timmins does. He can spell Stewart in the first half and play a little more if the Huskies are having trouble protecting the rim but it’s unlikely he’s on the floor in the final 5 minutes with his liabilities as a free throw shooter. There’s plenty of upside here but we won’t see most of it until next season once Stewart is in the NBA.
Per Game Projections: 10 minutes, 2.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 62.0 FG%, 50.0 FT%