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DJ Johnson


Article by Tyler Jackson

Photography by Kansas State Athletics

DJ Johnson

Kansas State Basketball 2012-2017

  • 2017 All-Big 12 Honorable Mention
  • 2017 Academic All-Big 12 Second Team
  • 2016 Barclays Center Classic All-Tournament Team
  • Fall 2016 Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll
  • Spring 2017 Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll

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I'm with Mr. DJ Johnson, April’s “Wildcat Legends: Where are they now?” brought to you by Community First National Bank. My friend, how are you doing?

Doing well, I can't complain.

Since you’re originally from St. Louis, what was your path to come into Kansas State?

The path was kind of smooth, honestly. I didn't know where I was going until April. So, I had two or three months before being on campus, which worked out how it was supposed to. Chris Lowery recruited me, and that was the first college recruit that I had when he was at Southern Illinois. Coach Weber recruited me a little bit while he was at Illinois throughout my junior and senior year. When both came to K State, it seemed like it was perfect. I hadn't made a decision yet. I took a couple visits that spring to Virginia Tech and Minnesota, and Memphis. But I came on my visit, and had Jordan Henrique as my host, and Rodney (McGruder), and Tay (Martavious Irving). They all showed me a time around Manhattan, and the rest is history.

Like you said, everything always happens as it should. Weren’t you Bruce Weber's very first commit?

Yeah, the first one at K State.

That’s actually a badge of honor, man.

For sure!  

Coming into that summer that, and moving to Manhattan, were you nervous? Excited? Scared? Were you A little bit of all of it?

Maybe, I don't know if maybe a little nervous, more excited than anything with it being a new place and not being the city, but honestly just ready to kinda get out of the city and experience something new. It was just always a dream to get out and go somewhere.

What a better place than just six hours down the road, right?

Yep. Five, if you drive it right!


My mom and dad, they made every home game that I had as a freshman, they made some games up in New York, made games at the Big 12 tournament; any nearby game that they could go to, they were at. So that was part of the reason why I chose K State over Virginia Tech. Just an easier place to get to, and a chance to play with some great players. So yeah, just time that worked out.

How is your dear mama doing?

Mom's good. Mom and dad, both are good. Living at St. Louis. They're doing well.

In 2016, I'll never forget going to the the SLU (St. Louis U.) game at Chaifetz Arena your senior year where I actually sat near your mom.

Hopefully you didn't lose any hearing!

<laughs>! It was awesome. It was an experience, man. Especially since all your games were always on the road to them, and this is one was in their backyard!  

That was the second game that we played there in St. Louis. We played there my sophomore year versus Kentucky.


I broke my foot during that game, so I played maybe five or six minutes. It was probably better for them to see me play senior year at SLU. I think almost went perfect from the field! (DJ had 21 points and 10 rebounds in that game)

That's awesome.

It was good for me, and good for Xavier Snead, who was a freshman at the time. We recruit out of the St. Louis area heavily it seems like, or at least we have every two, three years we get a big guy from St. Louis or a nice recruit from St. Louis. So it, it's good for everybody.

Didn’t you miss the entire season with that foot injury?

Yeah, I set out all of 2014 to 2015.

Well, in spite of that injury, would you have changed anything or done anything over at K-State?

If there's one thing I would've changed, it would’ve been maybe staying focused a little bit more, for sure. Just like, with what my goal was, and that was playing professionally. So, I think that kind of got lost throughout the way, just focusing in on other things, or worried about things going on at home or having to take care of people. So, I think that's maybe one part that I would say I wish I changed because I really didn’t fully commit to hooping after my injury because I didn't feel like there was an opportunity to play with the injury that I had. I didn't think there was a future of basketball following college.

With that, what was your path after college? You played professionally for a few seasons, right?

Yeah, I still played professionally. I pushed it to the limit and played professionally for a while. I played overseas in Greece my first year, South Korea my second year. Then I went to The G (NBA G-League) for a year, went back to South Korea post-Covid, and then went back to The G. So, I played a little bit, which was nice. I really enjoyed the organizations that I got a chance to be a part of for a short stint.

Throughout that time I continued to pursue my Master’s in Urban Planning & Design. It kind of led me to the place I am today, being with BNIM, an Architecture firm in Kansas City. So, I guess I wouldn't change anything, but I think maybe had I focused in a little bit more on basketball, it would've been a little bit better. It might have been.

Now, obviously there's the physical aspect of having to be in that walking boot for so long. Did you feel the injury, and being out for a season like that, did it have any psychological effect on you?

I'm sure it did. I spent a lot of time away from the team. I spent a lot of time away from my family at that time, too. But I think, it might have been the best thing that happened to me. Because now I'm scrambling and I'm thinking, ‘well, if I'm not gonna play ball professionally, what am I going to do? What do I really want to do?’ And at the time, I still had not figured out that I wanted to be a developer, or do something in the real estate development realm. I really think during that time it helped me build more self-confidence in myself. I cut maybe 40 or 50 pounds. I got my body fat down from 13% to 6% at one point. So I think if anything, it probably made me stronger.

That's amazing! So Urban Planning & Design, that’s what you’re doing now?

Yep, now I work as a planner and urban designer for BNIM, we're an architecture firm in Kansas City. We have offices in Des Moines, D.C., and San Diego. Right now, I'm working on a few projects; developing and designing campuses, buildings, and urban neighborhoods. We do a little bit of everything in the architecture and development realm. I primarily work as a planner and urban designer doing renderings, site analysis; pretty much anything in the preliminary process before doing the development.

How cool man! Do you have any favorite projects that stand out?

I'm under an NDA for all of my projects currently, but I will say there are some really cool projects that I've had a chance to work on. I've only been here for six months, but before here, I worked as a consultant for a planning firm before. I consulted for the city of DeSoto prior to them annexing the Sunflower ammunition plant into their city limits. And, that’s where the Panasonic is building is going to be. It’s a 300 acre, 2 million square foot battery factory.

Yes, yes! I've heard about that.

I assisted with the planning process for DeSoto and consulted for them. I did some community engagement infrastructure updates and utility coordination for the city of DeSoto. It was pretty cool to be a part of that process, and it was probably by far been the coolest project I worked on so far, just because of how massive it was. I also got the opportunity to meet Governor Laura Kelly and Sharice Davids (U.S. Representative). So, that was probably the coolest development I've been a part of so far.

Just think of how much experience you got from just that one project!

Yeah, man, I had a couple opportunities to go and play and I was like, ‘man, nah.’ I'm consulting for this firm, and traveling, and getting to do site selection. With me having a background in real estate, it just really a ton of great experiences that I had with that process of consulting for DeSoto.

What are you up to with real estate consulting?

I have a few clients right now that I'm assisting with listing their land. One piece of land is the former Munson Prime restaurant in Junction City. It's an acre and a quarter along I-70. You can see it from I-70. It has great access. You might be just one or two lots away from the exit or entry ramp to get onto I 70. Then, I have a couple other clients that are looking to develop attainable housing in Baltimore. I have another client that is looking to develop a basketball facility here in Kansas City. You can find me on the Kansas City Realty website, Kansas City Realty Services, LLC. My broker's in KC, MO.

What a fun ride, my friend. And you still do play basketball! You’re a member of the TBT’s (The Basketball Tournament) Purple and Black, which is basically a K-State alumni team. What's it like playing in the TBT with your friends?

Oh man. It's something. I think we all look forward to the summertime, and for the opportunity for us all to get together. Even if we're not playing ball, that's the majority of the time when all the guys are back, during the summertime. So, it's just good to be with each other, grab dinner with each other's families, get to know each other's spouses, and let the ladies hang out and the kids hang out and do their thing. It feels like it's almost nostalgic because we've done this for 10 plus years now at this point. It’s been 12, 15 plus years for some of these guys. So, it's cool to maintain those relationships and friendships and we all just love getting together and grabbing a bite to eat and chopping it up.

As a Manhattan townie, it's pretty cool to see when all the old school basketball players show up in the summertime and everybody can go and watch you guys practice at Manhattan Christian College, and hang out after that. It’s cool dude, it really is.

We look forward to doing it again this year and hopefully we can have a longer stint in Manhattan this year too!

Then the last question I love to ask everybody for Wildcat Legends - what is it that you miss the most about Manhattan, Kansas?

The quietness. It could be real quiet. Maybe not during country stampede or the first week of school or fake pat's day! <laugh> But, it can be real quiet. I think I miss that part about it. A lot of days that I would have off, I would go up to the lake and just drive around a little bit. I’d go up to Olsburg, and go to Randolph and drive across the bridge, or meditate up there. You don't expect the terrain and the different types of landscapes that you see up there. You don't expect to see that in Kansas. With the lake, and the way it gets really hilly, I miss that part about it. Especially being in a metro area where everything is developed, there's not a lot of tree canopy. So, just being able to go do something in nature, and walk the Flint Hills or go to the lake, I think I miss that the most.

Man, that's a great answer.

Beyond that, I think having the backing of the university, whether it's athletics or the actual university, and having them in your corner. Everybody is on the same page - just trying to make Manhattan a happy place!

Wildcat Legends: Where are they now? is brought to you by Community First National Bank. With two locations in Manhattan to serve you, Community First National Bank is helping to create the legend in you! Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender. 

All Photos Courtesy of Kansas State Athletics 

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