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Keldon Johnson’s golden moment could pay off for silver and black

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The Spurs’ training gym was quiet on Monday, save for the muffled buzz of conversation and the occasional click of a camera shutter that characterizes an NBA media day.

Then from one corner came a primitive cry that pierced the silence and spun more than a frightened onlooker in search of the source of the commotion.

It was, of course, Keldon Johnson being Keldon Johnson.

The third-year forward was performing his vociferous slam-dunk celebration for a bunch of team videographers.

“I feel like you need one of these guys on your team,” center Jakob Poeltl said. “No matter the day, it will bring the energy.”

Those responsible for running USA Basketball – including Spurs coach Gregg Popovich – obviously agreed.

Johnson, 21, had perhaps the most interesting summer of any Spurs player, winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics after finding his place in the United States squad as a replacement for ‘a last minute injury.

This gold medal is now part of her everyday wardrobe.

“I still wear it,” Johnson said Monday. “Not here, but I always wear it everywhere else.”

Back in the United States at work paying his salary, Johnson prepares for a reminder of his Olympic experience.

The 6-foot-5 Johnson averaged 12.8 points and six rebounds last season, numbers that could rise as Popovich aims to hand more responsibility to the young core Spurs this season.

“I think winning the gold medal was definitely a great accomplishment, but I know there is still work to be done,” Johnson said. “I felt like right after the Olympics it was: what should I do next? What do I need to work on to be better and be the best version of Keldon Johnson to help my team win? ‘ “

Added to the full US squad roster after Kevin Love and Bradley Beal were forced to retire due to health concerns, Johnson was not the driving force behind the US victory.

He appeared in four games during the Olympic tournament, totaling 22 minutes of time on the pitch.

Still, Johnson returned home as Spurs’ third player to win an Olympic medal with Team USA, joining a shortlist with franchise greats David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

Just being there for the duration of the gold medal race – and sharing a changing room with Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Draymond Green – should pay Johnson dividends as he joins Spurs.

“Just learning from all of these greats, people who will one day be in the Hall of Fame, will be good for him,” said Spurs goaltender Derrick White. “Take a little bit of each person and learn what makes them special, then apply it to yourself, it will help them throughout the year.”

It has been a comet-like rise for Johnson, who 18 months ago played for the Spurs subsidiary in the G League.

It erupted at the end of his rookie season, as the Spurs wrapped up the 2019-20 campaign interrupted by the pandemic in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida.

This laid the foundation for Johnson’s strong second season, in which he became the third youngest player in franchise history to collect 1,000 career points.

The highlight of Johnson’s second NBA campaign was his victory on March 19 in Cleveland, where he totaled 23 points and 21 rebounds.

It was Spurs’ first 20-20 game since Tim Duncan achieved the feat in 2013.

With Tokyo as a springboard for Johnson, the Spurs are anticipating big things for the former Kentucky star, starting with the first training camp on Tuesday.

“There really is no other expectation than to be what he already is – a top-level, high-energy player who can score from a plethora of different places,” said the Spurs goalkeeper. Lonnie Walker. “Coming out of this gold medal, I expect nothing but really, really good – if not great – from him.”

In order to harness that potential, Johnson has spent time this offseason working on his perimeter shot.

A bulldozer near the edge, Johnson gained just 33.1% on a 3-point range last season – a number he hopes to increase in year three.

Johnson scored 57.9% of his points in the paint last season, just behind Poeltl among Spurs regulars.

“I hope I shoot the ball better and be a better player throughout the game,” Johnson said.

At the very least, Johnson returned from his summer abroad in Tokyo aware of his place in the NBA. At the Olympics, Johnson played alongside and against some of the best players in the world and held on.

He belongs, and if Johnson didn’t know it before, his gold medal proves it. Poeltl laughed when asked if he noticed a difference in Johnson now that he is an Olympic medalist.

“A little more attitude,” Poeltl joked. “Too confident. “

Johnson’s teammates on Spurs don’t care if he never takes away his gold medal.

“He worked hard to get that spot and earn the right to be a part of this team,” White said. “I think everyone on that team loved him there and loved the energy he brought.”

The US team fed off Johnson’s energy in Tokyo.

Now it’s Spurs’ turn to do the same.

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Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN


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