INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Johnny Juzang’s impact at UCLA has been immediate since he transferred from Kentucky, giving the Bruins the scorer and dynamic player they had been missing in recent years.
The junior guard is playing his best at just the right time, leading the Bruins into the Final Four for the first time since 2008.
Juzang also has had a much broader impact, even if it’s been unintentional.
Projected to be the first Asian American NBA first-round pick, possibly in the lottery, he’s become an inspiration for younger players at a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise.
“It’s not something that’s on the top of my mind or really think about. I’m just Johnny,” said Juzang, who’s mother is Vietnamese. “I will get messages or hear stories about how I inspire people, regardless of their heritage. Sometimes there are people of Asian decent. But just being able to inspire people is something that’s touching and inspires me and something I don’t take lightly.”
Juzang’s older brother Christian played at Harvard and led the Saigon Heat to the 2020 championship in the Vietnamese Basketball Association.
Christian was the top pick in the VBA draft, and the younger Juzang looks like he has an even brighter professional future. He has thrived on the court since transferring to Westwood. A former five-star recruit, the 6-foot-6 guard was a role player on a loaded Kentucky team, averaging 2.9 points and 1.9 assists in 28 games as a freshman.
Not long after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the season, Juzang announced he was transferring and later picked UCLA to be closer to his family in Tarzana, California.
Juzang missed the first four games of the 2020-21 season with a foot injury, but he is a big reason the Bruins were able to overcome senior Chris Smith’s season-ending knee injury in early January.
Juzang was the Bruins’ leading scorer at 15.5 points per game while shooting 34% from the 3-point arc and seemed to get better as the season progressed. He scored at least 20 points three times in the NCAA Tournament, including 28 against Michigan to clinch a spot in the Final Four.
And he’s done it on an ankle that’s been bothering him for weeks.