Combo forward making a name

The Houston Hoops are loaded. They have a ton of talent and most of it consists of young players. They have no fewer than five high-major prospects for the 2007 class on their roster. One of those players is talented wing Gary Johnson.

The Hoops are blessed with a number of versatile, athletic forwards. Last year it was Jermichael Finley, Fendi Onobun and Martellus Bennett providing the mix of strength and athleticism. This year Damion James, Mike Singletary and Johnson have assumed those roles. Whereas Onobun and Bennett were more inside players, these guys are all probably projecting as wings at the next level.

Johnson reminds some of Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns. Like Marion he is a long, athletic forward who is better near the rim. He is a solid finisher and is an aggressive defender and rebounder.

Right now he describes himself as wide open and can rattle off a number of schools he likes.

"Carolina, Duke, Arizona, Kentucky, Kansas, and Texas," Johnson said. "Those are just the schools I can think of."

Like many of the players with his size and skills, Johnson wants to play on the perimeter…but not exclusively. He is not afraid to play inside. All too often taller players only want to play the three, but Johnson takes so much pride in being a combo-forward that he has made it a priority in recruiting.

"I must be able to play power forward and small forward," Johnson said, describing what he is looking for in a school.

While he is open about wanting to be a versatile player, he is also very honest about the importance of playing right off the bat. He makes no bones about the NBA being a goal and feels that playing early will help him prepare for the league.

"I would want to go into a program that I could contribute to as a freshman," Johnson said. "That would boost my NBA stock."

Since he plays for the Houston Hoops, there is a natural tie with the Wildcats. Team founder Hal Pastner is the father of Wildcat assistant Josh Pastner. Current teammate Nic Wise has pledged to the Cats, while former teammate Fendi Onobun is slated to play for the Cats next season.

Needless to say Johnson is familiar with the program.

"I'm surrounded by Arizona guys every day, and I have a good relationship with Josh Pastner," Johnson explained. "I love Lute Olson, Jawann (McClellan) and all those guys."

Although he is Scout.com's No. 6 PF in the 2007 class, Johnson admits he needs to work on several aspects of his game. He notes that his shooting, ball-handling and perimeter defense all need work. He is honest in the assessment that his inside game is ahead of his outside game at this point.

Matt Messina contributed to this story

E-mail Brad at bradallis@msn.com


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