Johnson Sees Another Side of Hometown School

Gilbert Highlight guard Nick Johnson has been a regular at Wells Fargo Arena this past season. Yet, his familiarity with the Sun Devil basketball program was somewhat limited. Following an unofficial visit to Tempe today, the 2011 prospect witnessed a whole new side of ASU and he shared his impressions with Devils Digest.

Nick Johnson was offered by Arizona State prior to his freshman year with the Hawks. The guard has enjoyed his recruitment with the Sun Devils, and his Monday campus visit certainly didn't hurt his already strong feelings towards the maroon and gold. Johnson stated that today's visit was considerably different than the others he has taken to Tempe.

"They took me to places where the normal college student would go," Johnson said. "Until now I have only seen the basketball stuff and today I saw a lot of other things too. They took me to the new dorms and I've never been there. There were amazing. My mom said that the dorms she used to live in were nothing like these.

"We also talked a lot about the nutrition program there, and the strength and conditioning program. They think they have a top program in those areas and they showed me some stats that prove that. You could see how James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph progressed throughout the years."

Since Johnson and his Highland teammates were on campus for ASU's team camp a few weeks ago, he did already get to see the new Weatherup basketball facility. Nonetheless, seeing it again today didn't detract from the strong impression it had left on him.

"That place is crazy," Johnson remarked. "It has 100 flat screen TV's in there, the court is great and it's kind of cool that the baskets they have there are the same ones they used in the last (NBA) All-Star game. That whole place is great because it's open 24 hours, and if you need to work on your shot or anything like that you can go in there anytime. Little things like that can really help a college player.

"My feelings towards Arizona State were already strong, but this visit was good because I got to talk to the coaches a lot more. I have a great relationship with them and it's growing even more."

As a sophomore, the 6-3 185 guard averaged 14.9 ppg 5.2 rpg 3.3 apg for the Hawks who finished 29-4 and lost to Phoenix St. Mary's in the 5A1 state finals. Johnson's backcourt teammate, Matt Carlino was also a very big part in Highland's success. Unfortunately this dynamic duo won't share the same court this coming season.

Carlino, who committed to the University of Indiana, will start his acclimation with the Hoosiers this fall as he and his father Mark, who was Highland's head coach, will transfer to a Bloomington high school this fall. "It was a big surprise to me," Johnson admitted. "I was under the impression that he was staying here. But I wish him all the best."

As a result, Johnson is evaluating his options concerning his choice of a high school. "I had no contact with any out of state schools," he said. "I can't say I'm definitely staying with Highland, but let's just say it's up in the air. If I'm not staying with Highland I'm definitely going out of state.

"I played a lot with AAU teams all around the country, so I think it should be an easy high school transition for me. I know a lot of players around the country and that helps a lot."

Johnson acknowledged that he naturally won't be a regular at ASU home games if he did leave Highland, but stated that "I don't think that my recruitment with ASU will get that affected."

Aside from the Sun Devils, Johnson named Arizona, UCLA and Virginia Tech as his other top schools who have been recruiting him the hardest. He has offers from all but UCLA. Johnson isn't eligible to take official visits until next year, so his decision won't be imminent.

"If I had to choose today it would probably be one of those four schools," Johnson noted. "But I'm wide open and I hope to get offers from other schools too."

The guard also sports offers from Gonzaga and Oregon State, and said that schools such as Kentucky, Marquette and Washington have been recruiting him as well.

Johnson started out his prep career at shooting guard, but lately has been playing the point. "Having the ball in my hands forces me to make more plays," Johnson commented. "I really improved my shooting and I'm more aggressive to the basket.

"I'm pretty athletic, but I do need to get stronger."

Johnson's father Joey Johnson (the brother of late Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns star Dennis Johnson) played for the Sun Devils in the late-80's, and prior to his ASU career was voted defensive player of the year in the junior college ranks.

As a result, the younger Johnson admitted that he can never get away with not playing hard on both ends of the court with his father in attendance.

"When I get big defensive matchup I try to shut down my player," Johnson explained. "If I score 30 but also let my man score 30, I'm going to hear about it because it wasn't a good game."

Recent success is one aspect that Johnson said would guide his decision when selecting a school. As a valley resident he has seen the lean years the Sun Devil program has endured earlier this decade, which makes him realize the strides the program has made since and the overall direction they are heading in.

"Most definitely I saw them when they were down," Johnson said, "and now coming into this year they'll be one of the best teams in the Pac-10. That's pretty cool."

Style of play is another factor that will impact Johnson's college selection, and going over game film with the coaches today showed him how he could fit in the Sun Devils' scheme if he decided to don the maroon and gold.

"I think I would fit in here pretty good," Johnson said. "They showed me that they're not just a half court team and that they run up and down and that's a good thing. They also play very good defense – it's not a regular zone defense."

Johnson will lace them up this summer for the Drew Gooden Soldiers AAU club, which will participate in the Peach Jam, and the Desert Duel among other July tournaments.

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