Johnnie Vassar is a name many Illinois fans are familiar with. The skilled 6'-1" sophomore point guard from La Lumiere in La Porte, Indiana, was busy this summer. While most of his peers were playing their AAU seasons, Vassar was busy working hard to get better.
"My summer went well, but I didn't really play much. I took the summer off to work with my trainer, and I went to a few camps. I was in Boston with BABC playing a bit, but I focused mostly on training. Now I'm playing with the Oakland Soldiers."
Vassar already has a well-developed game at his age, but one thing in particular has been the focus of his workouts.
"Really, we worked on my perimeter shooting and getting it more consistent. Mostly just shooting.
"Overall, I just want to get better in every aspect. Right now the main focus is the perimeter. I want to rarely miss and actually be surprised if I miss."
As for the skills he already has, Vassar's first priority is something Illinois fans will most definitely appreciate.
"First is defense. I can defend really well. Also just being able to get to the basket and be explosive. I can finish above the rim or find the open man. That and mid-range shooting."
The move from Boston to Indiana was for good reason. Not only is he closer to his hometown of Chicago, he's part of a powerhouse La Lumiere program in which he's expected to work hard every day.
"I went to be closer to home and closer to family to cut down on travel. Also, it's going well. I'm doing well academically, and basketball is going great. We should have a good team. It gets tough every once in a while with all of the practices. We lift early and then in the afternoon, then play later in the evening."
La Lumiere features several Division I players including Hanner Perea (Indiana), Bobo Drummond (Southern Illinois), Raphael Davis (Purdue), and Jay Simpson (Purdue). The level of competition is something that makes Vassar a better player every day.
"Right now it's great having all of these players, especially Bobo (Drummond). We scrimmage, and we have to go against each other. Going against each other makes each other better, and he helps me out a lot."
Vassar has high hopes for La Lumiere's season this year. With so much talent, it's hard not to set the bar high, for both himself and his team.
"Besides improving my game, I'd say with the team we have right now, we want to compete for a national championship and beat some of these top teams."
Vassar is still young, but he's already getting an idea of what will help him differentiate between colleges and eventually make a decision. He also hopes to carry his love of sports on after college is over.
"It's early right now, but I want an uptempo play style, a good relationship with the coaching staff, and academics. I want to major in Sports Journalism or Broadcasting. My passion for sports and basketball drives that. One of my mentors is Kenny ‘The Jet' Smith. I've known him since I was 9. He helps me out a lot, and I really look up to him."
Illinois is the only college offer for Vassar right now, but his talent is undeniable. Recently he's been hearing from a few other Big Ten powers as well as some other national programs.
"No recent offers, but some new schools have come into the picture. The new ones are Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, Stanford, Oregon and Louisville. I haven't made it to any of the schools yet, but I have visits to Purdue, Northwestern, and Stanford scheduled in October. Then I'll see what other schools I can make."
Saturday, Vassar came down to Champaign to see the Illini make a dramatic comeback against Northwestern in a game that had Memorial Stadium rocking. He spent much of his time with Illinois assistant Jerrance Howard, who Vassar has connected with well early on.
"Really the football game was the highlight. It was crazy. I spent some time with Coach Howard at the game. We got some good time to hang out. I liked the fan support there. A big part of it too was getting to know Coach Jerrance. I visited a while ago when I got the offer, and the school is very family oriented. I like the staff a lot."
Vassar got the feeling that many do when they come to Illinois. Coach Howard made him feel right at home during his time on campus.
"Right now it's great. He showed me around campus, and everyone there seems like they like him. It's like a family."
Vassar will continue to make visits in the near future, but it's clear this weekend left him with some great memories and made a strong impression on him.