EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Muscle watch: Suns’ Cam Johnson packs on pounds to stay available

Jul 15, 2020, 1:50 PM | Updated: 6:44 pm

Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) hangs on the rim after scoring in the second half of an N...

Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) hangs on the rim after scoring in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Atlanta. The Hawks won 123-110. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

NBA players always reference the rookie wall. Some catch a second wind before their first pro seasons are over.

Never before have NBA rookies had a mid-season breather the length of an entire offseason.

It’s done Phoenix Suns wing Cam Johnson some good. He went back home to Pennsylvania once the season was suspended on March 11 and hit the weight room.

“Just focusing on my body, trying to get stronger and kind of taking care of my joints, taking care of my shoulder, taking care of my hips,” Johnson said on a Zoom call from Orlando on Wednesday. “And then eating better, eating well, focusing on eating protein and all that.

“So I probably put on like 10-ish, 12-ish pounds and when I got back to Arizona kind of maintained that.”

Head coach Monty Williams said two weeks back that Johnson’s new physique blew him away. While the “muscle watch” is an overplayed storyline written about players during every offseason, the 2019 11th overall pick adding to his wiry 6-foot-8 frame — the team website has listed him at 210 pounds — comes with unique context.

Johnson underwent shoulder and hip surgeries during his college days at Pittsburgh and then North Carolina.

Wear-and-tear impacted him through the Suns’ first 65 games. At different points, he dealt with a low back/right hip contusion injury, a sore calf and then was diagnosed with mononucleosis in early March, ruling him out for two weeks after a March 3 game. The season was stalled before he could come back.

“When I found out I was going to be out for a little bit, it was definitely really frustrating. It came after the game and, boom, just the next day they told me I need to be out a little bit,” Johnson said.

Williams said Wednesday that Johnson understands the workload required to keep himself healthy and available. The coach added that, since ramping back up, the rookie’s has “a confidence about him that’s a bit different.”

Johnson is “not afraid to show his emotions,” his coach said.

With forward Kelly Oubre’s status still in limbo in Orlando, there’s a chance Johnson will take on a larger role. It sounds as if Williams believes the first-round pick is ready to contribute further, even if Oubre gets medically cleared by the team to play the eight-game seeding schedule at Disney World.

“It feels like guys like Cam (Johnson) and Ty (Jerome) and Jevon (Carter) and all of our young guys have had that first summer away from the game where they’ve had a chance to marinate and think and reflect on their season,” Williams said two weeks ago. “They come back better just from being away from it for a short bit.

“Looking at their own film, and numbers and talking to their agents and family members — they come back better.”

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