As he waited to learn his fate, Johnny Juzang prepared as if he was going to be cleared to play for UCLA next season.
The transfer from Kentucky commenced hours of sweat-dripping workouts, from runs on the beach to weightlifting sessions to exercises on a machine designed to enhance his vertical jump and speed.
Juzang learned Wednesday that all of that drudgery will not require delayed gratification; he will be immediately eligible to play for the Bruins.
The cheery news came from Erin Adkins, UCLA’s associate athletic director for compliance who had worked tirelessly on Juzang’s petition to the NCAA to be cleared for immediate eligibility because of a personal family situation. Once Juzang told his parents, the celebrating began in earnest.
The 6-foot-6 guard will be classified as a sophomore next season and have three years of remaining eligibility.
“To be able to get on the court this year, it’s a blessing, man. It’s really a blessing,” Juzang said Thursday evening. “I can’t even describe how happy I was.”
Juzang also thanked Kentucky coach John Calipari and the Wildcats athletic staff for supporting his efforts to play without sitting out a year after averaging 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds as a freshman.
“I wouldn’t say they were involved in the process,” Juzang said, “but I believe they gave their blessing.”
Even though he was hopeful that he would be cleared to play, Juzang couldn’t help but contemplate the alternative. The former Studio City Harvard-Westlake High star thought about what it might be like to watch the Bruins compete while he watched from the bench in street clothes.
“Sitting out a year is tough for anybody who loves to play this game, but what’s even harder is sitting on the sideline and watching and wishing you could be out there,” Juzang said. “I see it just more that way — it’s just a blessing to be able to play, to be allowed the opportunity to play. It’s something you kind of take for granted but with this type of situation, I was kind of scared thinking about sitting that year out. I’m so excited to be able to play this season.”
Juzang has stayed busy throughout the lockdown forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s worked out on a basketball court five days a week and supplemented that training with weightlifting, beach workouts and VertiMax sessions to improve his jumping and his speed.
“Explosiveness and conditioning are something I’m making huge leaps in,” Juzang said, “and then on the court it’s my ability to handle the ball and deliver passes.”
Whenever the Bruins are allowed back on campus, Juzang hopes to continue an upward trajectory that started toward the end of last season. His playing time and production steadily ticked upward over the last nine games, when he twice reached double figures in points.
“I feel like that adjustment period is over with,” Juzang said. “I’m a new guy [but] I don’t see myself coming in as a freshman, I see myself coming in as a guy with a lot of experience, so I’m pretty amped up and ready to go.”