CLAREMONT, Calif. -- Over the past year, 2016 seven-footer Jayce Johnson has changed schools and states. He’s bigger, stronger and much more sure of himself, particularly around the rim. The four-star center is much more aggressive and assertive now than he was at the West Coast Elite camp a year ago, and when he stepped onto the court for this year’s edition – the Under Armour Elite 100 on the campus of Pomona-Pitzer College, he was flat-out dominant in the camp’s Top 20 game.
Johnson showed off increased mobility – with no trace of the stiffness that beset him at times last year – and consistently finished at the rim. He didn’t tire as he did last year – a product of a heavy conditioning regimen – and voraciously pursued every rebounding opportunity. Johnson has certainly taken the next step in his development.
Johnson started his high school career at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, before heading to Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep, but before this past academic year, he came back home to California, and enrolled at Santa Monica. Though the Vikings had a down season – finishing 12-15 and being bounced in the first round of the playoffs by a Jemarl Baker-led Eastvale (Calif.) Roosevelt team –Johnson finally feels at home.
“I was very happy there,” Johnson said on Sunday. “I wish I would have started out there, that way I wouldn’t have had to do all these crazy things. Santa Monica’s a great school, and Jim Hecht’s a great coach, and it’s a great program.”
On Sunday, Johnson teamed up with another 2016 prospect who’s at least close to his altitude in 6-foot-9 Mitch Lightfoot. It’s the first time the two have played with one another, instead of against one another, as they did this past April, and last week at the Under Armour All-American Camp in Charlotte, N.C.
“We’re not really the same position, so we weren’t really playing against each other, but with him, he’s a good player,” Johnson said. “He likes to talk. He tells you where he’s at, he tells you he’s going to come set a screen for you right now. He knows what he’s doing on the floor. At my high school, in my league, there’s not really a lot of big guys like me playing. It’s good to play with bigger players.”
After California head coach Cuonzo Martin watched the Top 20 game in which both Johnson and Lightfoot played on Sunday, he pulled the trigger and offered the Gilbert, Ariz., product, and watching the pair play together in an all-star setting, it’s not hard to imagine them sharing a college front line at some point in their futures.
Johnson has a pile of scholarship offers as he heads into the homestretch of his final high school summer, recently scoring ones from Penn State and Iowa. After the event, he also scored one from Vanderbilt.
“I’ve got a couple new offers, from Penn State and Iowa. Penn State, right now, I think they did alright. I don’t know too much about the program. The ones that had already offered me, I was watching throughout the season, so I’m more familiar with those programs,” said Johnson, who noted that Utah, Oregon, Gonzaga and Martin’s Golden Bears are standing out.
“Utah, Larry Krystkowiak, he’s a big man. He played in the NBA for a little while,” said Johnson, who also had the Utes’ skipper watching him in the Top 20 game, along with Martin. “He knows the ropes, he’s a good guy, and he could show me things that not a lot of other people could show me. Oregon, I just talked with the coaches. They sound like a great school, a great program.”
Cal’s staff is going into their second season in Berkeley, and have been one of the more consistent presences in Johnson’s recruitment. Recently, the Bears added former Louisville assistant Wyking Jones to the coaching ranks, after seeing assistant Jon Harris -- who Martin brought with him from his previous stop at Tennessee – accepted a head coaching position of his own.
“The coaching staff, the way that they’re coming back from where they were before, they’re adding new staff to the program,” Johnson said of what stands out about Cal. “They’ve got a new big man coach. That stands out, the big man coach. I’ve had a conversation with him, and he sounds like a good guy. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s really, really smart.”