Geron Johnson is cleared to play, which means it’s time to see if Memphis’ gamble pays off

Josh Pastner famously doesn't drink, smoke or swear, but the Memphis coach certainly is prone to gambling once in a while.

In April, Pastner signed well-traveled guard Geron Johnson, a former top 100 recruit who has been dismissed from multiple junior colleges because of repeated run-ins with the law. Memphis announced Thursday that Johnson has been admitted to the university and is academically eligible to play this season.

That Johnson apparently will don a Memphis uniform next season is somewhat surprising because many coaches in Pastner's position would have cut ties with the guard given his his history of legal trouble.

Johnson was arrested for attempted burglary during high school and did not meet the NCAA's minimum academic standards upon graduation. Chipola College in Florida was Johnson's next stop, but he was dismissed from the team and spent some time in jail after multiple marijuana arrests.

Johnson also didn't last long at Garden City Community College in Kansas.  On Feb. 23, soon after he committed to Memphis, Johnson was dismissed from school following a series of incidents that month that began with a citation for for theft of property for stealing another student's cell phone.

In an interview with Yahoo! Sports on Friday, former Garden City coach Kris Baumann defended Johnson, noting that the guard was a good teammate during his year there and that the mistakes he made were mostly a result of immaturity.  Baumann also pointed out that Pastner and his staff were diligent about looking into Johnson's background via conversations with his family, former coaches and teammates.

"If you talk to people who have been around him his whole life, they'll tell you he's a good kid who has made some mistakes," Baumann said.

"When I was at Garden City, I met with our president and dean of students, and it was a situation where they told me he had to be dismissed. It was all just really petty stuff that was blown out of proportion because of who he was and being in a small town. If I had the chance to coach him again, there's no question I'd coach him again."

Why would Pastner absorb the obvious public relations hit to take Johnson in spite of the 6-foot-2 guard's checkered history? Well, two reasons.

First, Pastner and his staff insist he has done everything asked of him since signing with Memphis in April. And second, Johnson has a unique knack for scoring that certainly could help a Tigers team that needs to replace departed star Will Barton.

Baumann describes Johnson as a "poor man's Russell Westbrook." He's a lightning-quick combo guard who gets into the lane with ease and can elevate and finish around the rim as well as any junior college transfer in the country. He averaged 19.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game last season at Garden City before being dismissed.

The hope for Pastner has to be that Johnson has matured since his most recent incidents last February. He'll have two years of eligibility at Memphis, which means he has two seasons to repay his coach's unwavering faith in him by making an impact on the court and staying clean off of it.

"Coach Pastner did tremendous homework on him," Baumann said. "I really don't consider it that big of a risk, to be honest. I'm excited to see him play at Memphis. I think he's going to be fine."

What to Read Next