Cordova (S.C.) Edisto
Class of 2012
Johnson's story essentially is a tale of July. He received ample exposure playing with the CP3 All-Stars at pre-July events as well as at the highly visible NBAPA Top 100 Camp, and most scouts — and college coaches — had tabbed him as a nice, regional high-major prospect.
July was the turning point. Specifically, Johnson's stock skyrocketed at Nike's final round of EYBL games in North Augusta, S.C., otherwise known as the Peach Jam. At that prestigious tournament he proved to be one of the most dominant players in attendance, and in a matter of days elite national programs entered his recruitment.
Anyone watching Johnson for the first time immediately will notice his run/jump athleticism. He's tremendously quick off the floor and also changes ends with admirable mobility. In the wide-open world of grassroots basketball, he frequently gets ahead of competitors for easy buckets on the break.
But he's also highly effective in the halfcourt as well. Johnson's springs enable him to finish at the rim with a shocking degree of efficiency. At the Peach Jam, he led all players by shooting 82 percent (36-44) from the field. One other player (fellow blue-chip big man Shaq Goodwin) shot 78 percent, and no one else topped 69 percent. What Johnson accomplished there was unique. Against the powerful Albany City Rocks and massive center Dajuan Coleman, he hit all nine of his shot attempts.
Johnson's penchant for dunking is certain to win him fans. Most players with his lack of bulk prefer a more finesse game, but he's very effective inside and welcomes the challenge of those trying to shut him down. He doesn't hesitate upon receiving a pass at close-range and doesn't need to gather — not even a little bit — to explode to the height of his jump.
He also shows the beginnings of a workable turnaround jump shot. More reliable, however, is his work on the offensive glass. Because quickness, effort and timing are the key components to rebounding on that end of the court, Johnson excels at keeping the ball alive on the glass and typically converts when he retrieves a loose carom at the rim.
He's also a noteworthy shotblocker. Again, at the Peach Jam, Johnson was one of only three players to average more than 2.5 blocks per game. In fact, he averaged 4.2 per contest, a very impressive number in a 32-minute game.
The fact that Johnson improved so suddenly also suggests big things for him in college. We've observed numerous cases over the years when players — and especially big men — seemingly have been scouted thoroughly but mysteriously become new and improved late in their high school careers. Some of those players (Derrick Williams of Arizona is one example) have exploded even further in college.
At the minimum, no one can suggest that Johnson has stalled, become entitled and complacent, or failed to fulfill initial promise. He's the exact opposite of those common concerns.
The number below Johnson's name raises a red flag. A 6-9, 190-pound young man obviously can get much stronger (John Henson was even thinner at the same age), but he likely will need a full year on a college campus to nullify strength deficiency. One of my first notes on him from the spring was "desperately thin," and the lack of bulk shows up periodically despite his best efforts otherwise.
Johnson can be pushed around defensively and struggles to maintain position inside consistently with his back to the basket on offense. Because his shoulders are narrow, there's also a legitimate question about exactly what weight will be ideal for him as he puts on muscle.
He also requires a great deal of polish. His game away from the basket mostly is lacking, and in the long-term he'll need to upgrade his handling, shooting and passing from short-to-intermediate range facing the rim. Additionally, despite having the body type and game of a rangy, long-armed athlete, Johnson's wingspan actually is just average.
Thank goodness for a long summer. Had I written this evaluation at any time prior to mid-July, I'd have handicapped Johnson as a solid, four-year athlete who needs time to develop before he was ready to make an impact.
But while it remains true that he does need to progress physically and at least somewhat in terms of skills, Johnson's immediate future appears much more precocious now that he has established himself as such a forceful athlete. There's a lot to be said for any competitor who ignores his own shortcomings (in this case, mostly about strength) and battles irrespective of what should occur on paper.
At UNC, Johnson projects as an excellent fit. He runs well enough to score on breakouts as Tyler Zeller and John Henson are able to do, and his shotblocking fits a recent pattern of Carolina big men making a big impression on that end of the floor. Further, because Roy Williams focuses very determinedly on having an efficient offense, a player who finishes inside reliably is likely to earn his trust and more opportunities to take the court.
There's also no question that Johnson addresses a critical recruiting need. Carolina's frontcourt recruiting has been strangely problematic during the past two cycles, and Johnson helps restore order in an area that's always been a strength of Williams' teams.
For that reason Johnson may be worth more to UNC than even he is generally as a top-35 prospect, and some scouts regard him as a potential McDonald's All-American.
Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly and writes a freelance column for USAToday.com. Rob is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and is on the selection committee for the McDonald's All-American Game.