Illawarra coach Jacob Jackomas has made no apologies for teen prodigy AJ Johnson not taking the floor on NBL debut on Saturday night, saying it's his duty to protect the 18-year-old on the back of a limited preseason.
Johnson is one of the more highly-touted teenagers to head down under as part of the Next Stars program, and was expected to see some time on the floor against the Kings having featured in all three of the Hawks' preseason outings.
It left plenty of fans who packed the WEC for the season-opener clamouring to see the projected first-round NBA Draft pick in action, but they had to settle for some show-stopping dunks in the warm-up.
Those performances at the NBL Blitz came just weeks after undergoing surgery on a broken nose suffered in his first fortnight at the Snakepit, the setback keeping him out of key scrimmages ahead of the preseason tournament.
Jackomas said he went close to injecting Johnson when the margin ballooned to 18 against the Kings on Saturday, but couldn't find the time when the second unit orchestrated a late fightback that drew the Hawks back within victory.
"With AJ, just to clear it up, he's had four weeks off practice," Jackomas said.
"We threw him into the Blitz obviously in a way to just showcase [him] a little bit and he showed a bit of toughness, but he just hasn't been on the floor enough.
"He's highly talented, it was just a funny game where I'm sort of going 'let's give him a go' and then it gets back to six and you've got to bring your main guys back and you've got to give them a chance to win the game.
"It was a tough game because we sort of thought it was done and then we got it back to six or something like that so you're in [winning] mode. Our bench guys brought us back to a spot and then it's time for the main guys to come back and see what they can do.
"I'm sure he'll be disappointed, he's just had that bit of a setback and we're just going to ride with him right now and just get him in enough so he can come and deliver."
It didn't feature Johnson, but Jackomas did get some value out of his second unit, with Dan Grida prompting a late surge with 14 points and seven rebounds in the second half to cut an 18-point margin to six with three minutes left.
The comeback fell short, but the Hawks were plus-seven with the mullet-sporting 24-year-old on the floor despite going down by 15 points to their arch-rivals.
Jackomas said it illustrated how quickly things can turn on effort.
"It just proves, and we say this all the time, if you play the right way, with him and the people that were with him on the floor that time, you can come back into a game and win," Jackomas said.
"We've just got to figure out right now with the video, what the right way was, and what the wrong way was in that space.
"Dan definitely with his effort levels, and whoever rode it with him, they were right there as some of our best tonight."
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