Long before he became a rebound-snatching, shot-blocking force at UCLA, Myles Johnson had questions about his priorities.
His size and skill with a basketball in his hands made him naturally gifted, and those with a heavy bent toward athletics figured he had found his calling.
But Johnson had other interests. He enjoyed cooking. He spoke some Japanese. And there was always that unquenchable first love.
Johnson displayed a natural aptitude for science, technology and math that would lead him to major in engineering, first at Rutgers as an undergraduate and later at UCLA as a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering.
Along the way, Johnson became a part-time starter on the Bruins’ basketball team, the 6-foot-10 center emerging as UCLA’s best rebounder and interior defender last season on a team that reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
But the graduate transfer never strayed from his primary endeavor. He announced Thursday on social media that he would forgo a final season of eligibility to finish his degree and commence his career off the court.
No testing the NBA draft waters. No overseas basketball.
“Pretty much, this is my retirement from basketball,” Johnson told The Times. “It was one of those coming-to-terms moments that I just had to sit there and say, ‘You know what, it may be a hard pill to swallow, but in the long run I feel like this is what’s best.’ I feel like I’m giving up one thing to open a door to another part of my life.”
That next chapter begins this summer in San Jose, where Johnson will be a senior returning intern in hardware development for IBM. He’ll then complete the two quarters of classes he has left online before obtaining his graduate degree in March, with UCLA likely footing the tuition bill.
“Pretty much, this is my retirement from basketball. … I feel like I’m giving up one thing to open a door to another part of my life”
— Myles Johnson
Johnson has a standing offer from IBM and a strong lead on an NBA job — in the tech and analytic department of the Golden State Warriors, who reached out about him joining their front office.
It was a complex calculus that led Johnson to pick engineering over basketball. He contemplated playing overseas but couldn’t see himself living in a country where he didn’t speak the language. He spoke with lifelong friend Ethan Thompson, the former Oregon State star, about life in the G League.
Ultimately, he was swayed by other possibilities. One of his IBM contacts, who runs the diversity department, told Johnson he could help lure more minorities into the industry, something Johnson had already undertaken through the creation of his nonprofit foundation, BLKdev. He was also intrigued by the possibility of working for the Warriors, whose general manager, Bob Myers, was a member of UCLA’s 1995 national championship team.
Johnson laid out his options in a meeting with UCLA coach Mick Cronin, who said he would back him regardless of his decision.
“He was very understanding, he was like, ‘Yeah, you have a lot of paths and for you none of them really are bad decisions,’ ” Johnson said. “So he kind of put the ball in my field and was like, ‘Whatever you do, I’ll support it.” ’ So I just thought about it and was like, going forward … now I can do more organizational work and start my professional career, get a head start on it now.”
Johnson’s departure is a bigger blow than his statistics might indicate. In his only season at UCLA, he averaged 3.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks despite averaging only 18.1 minutes per game. A disruptive defender with active hands, he was selected a member of the Pac-12’s all-defensive team, and his presence was especially critical after starting forward Cody Riley suffered a knee injury in the season opener that sidelined him for nearly two months.
Johnson’s leaving drastically changes the team’s outlook in the frontcourt next season. Unless Riley returns, highly coveted freshman Adem Bona will challenge redshirt freshman Mac Etienne for a starting spot, assuming Etienne has sufficiently recovered from the torn knee ligament that sidelined him last season.
Bona, a 6-9 center from Napa Prolific Prep, combines elite athleticism with an impressive array of post moves, giving the Bruins the sort of interior offensive presence they have lacked in recent years. He’ll be pushed by Etienne, with Kenneth Nwuba serving as backup.
Johnson becomes the fourth Bruin to depart, joining junior guard Johnny Juzang and freshman guard Peyton Watson, who are entering the NBA draft, and junior guard Jake Kyman, who announced he was transferring to Wyoming. But the team’s core should remain largely intact with junior guards Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. returning in addition to senior guard David Singleton and sophomore guard Jaylen Clark.
“I definitely thought about coming back — especially with the potential, no one really went anywhere too and the people coming in and everything,” Johnson said, “but in the grand scheme of things, I just thought this would be better for me.”