WHEN YOU DESCRIBE the prototypical NBA center, he is not complete without superlative size, strength and athleticism. He’ll fight for the tough rebounds in the trenches, but is just as quick to burn you with a shot from 15 feet.
Johan Petro possesses all of these skills and more, and bears all the promise of fulfilling his vast potential.
Born January 27, 1986, Johan spent his childhood in France’s signature city, Paris, and on the island nation of Guadeloupe. While most young boys hoped to play in soccer's World Cup, Johan was dreaming of America’s NBA.
Blessed with a frame that would eventually sprout to 7’0”, his size was something few men in his country possessed, quickly making him a sought-after player in France’s junior leagues. He was selected to join France’s junior national team, and honed his game at the National Institute of Sport and Physical Education.
In 2004, Johan was selected to join the French basketball club Elan Bearnais Pau-Orthez, one of the premier professional teams in the country. As an 18-year old big man, he helped his club capture the French Championship title. NBA scouts traveled halfway around the world to see the young center perform.
Team executives loved Johan’s size, and his muscle-packed build was more developed than what they saw from American prospects who had not gone to college. His aggressive style and ability to bang on the boards drew interest from numerous NBA clubs, so as the calendar turned to 2005, it was clear his dreams could become a reality.
After working out for several teams prior to the June draft, Johan traveled to New York’s Madison Square Garden to hear which team would select him. When the Seattle Supersonics made their selection with the 25th pick, they officially sent Johan and his family into a high-five-ridden frenzy of celebration.
"He's very happy, excited to join the team," said Johan’s then-manager Bahphna Dahane. "He is full of emotion right now and he's glad that he is joining the team that he thought he would be with."
The Sonics’ brass were equally excited, and felt they had their center of the future in the young Frenchman.
“There wasn't a whole lot of discussion," director of player development David Pendergraft said. "Johan was the highest guy on our list and it was pretty much a consensus.”
"It's a good pick for us because of his height, because he's at the center position," general manager Rick Sund said. "Centers are very difficult to get."
The Sonics front office decided the best way for the 19-year-old to develop was to be with the team from the start, so the decision was made for him not to return to France for another year of seasoning.
As a rookie, Johan showed incredible promise, starting in half the team’s 82 games while averaging over five points and four rebounds in just 18 minutes a night. It was clear there was nowhere to go for the Sonics’ first-round pick but up.
He worked tirelessly in practice to develop his game on both ends of the floor. His points and rebounds improved each of the next two seasons, and he worked even harder in the weight room and on the practice floor to make himself into the player he knew he could be.
With the Sonics having officially moved to Oklahoma City and renamed the Thunder, Johan thought that moving to the middle of the country from the West Coast would be the only change he’d encounter heading into the 2008-2009 season.
To his surprise, another challenge awaited him: on January 7, 2009, Johan was traded to the Denver Nuggets for a conditional first-round draft choice.
"I think he's going to help the team,'' fellow NBA player and Frenchman Yakhouba Diawara said. "He's another big body, a 7-footer who can shoot.''
For Johan, a change in locale was the perfect thing.
"It just feels great to get a fresh start with a winning team," he said. "It was frustrating to a point because I wasn't playing and we were losing. It was frustrating, but now I get a new chance to start over.''
Johan spent two successful seasons in Denver, each culminating in a trip to the postseason. In his first year as a Nugget, Denver came within two wins of the franchise’s first-ever trip to the NBA Finals.
In his second season in Denver, Johan stepped into an increased role. With key players out with injuries, he had 16 starts down the homestretch of the season, and his contributions were crucial in helping the Nuggets win their second consecutive Northwest Division title.
Following the season, Johan became a free agent for the first time in his career. After fielding multiple offers, No. 27 signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the New Jersey Nets on July 10, 2010.
Johan was one of four free agents introduced by the Nets on the same day as the franchise builds a bridge from their current home in New Jersey to their future in Brooklyn, New York. The contract was evidence that they want Johan to be a part of that future.