Nike: Thursday Notes

INDIANAPOLIS -- The revitalization of Brian Johnson has been enjoyable to watch this week.

Brian Johnson was the darling of the Nike Camp as a sophomore, but has been inconsistent ever since. But this week, he is playing with purpose and with a killer mid-range jump shot.

Against two of the best post players the Class of 2004 can offer -- Arkansas commitments Al Jefferson and Steven Hill -- Johnson put on a shooting clinic. All the jumpers that were clanging off the rim at previous tournaments such as the Nike Memorial Day Classic were going in during the separate matchups with Hill and Jefferson.

In Thursday's matchup against Jefferson, with UNC coach Roy Williams in the baseline front row, Johnson started off hot with three quick jumpers, including a nice fadeaway shot. He faded a little in the second half but finished 5 for 8, 10 points and three rebounds, all on the offensive end.

Jefferson got off to a slow start but was dominant in the second half. The 6-8, 260-pounder finished unofficially 6 for 8, 12 points, five rebounds and one blocked shot.

Just as important as the statistics, Johnson's team pulled out the win, 64-60.

Johnson's intensity, plus coach Drew Taylor, helped turn around Michigan, which previously lost 70-48 to Jefferson's team earlier in the week.

In Wednesday's game against Hill, Johnson went 7 for 8, including two 3-pointers (not a misprint) to finish with 16 points as Michigan won 71-63 against a loaded Illinois team.

With his jumper working, Johnson doesn't have to bang inside against players stronger than he is. When he has offensive problems is when he has to go toe-to-toe with defenders inside.

On the recruiting front, Johnson has a few changes. Johnson was a no-show for his Wednesday media session, but sources indicate that he is planning to visit North Carolina, Louisville, Michigan State, Florida and Notre Dame. The Cardinals and Rick Pitino are rapidly emerging as a darkhorse candidate and serious threat to the Tar Heels. It could get interesting.

In other Carolina recruiting news, rising senior target Ra'Sean Dickey missed Thursday's game with an injury, capping an enigmatic week. Tar Heels assistant coach Joe Holladay was in attendance for Dickey's game, but instead watched Rudy Gay go head-to-head with Malik Hairston, and impressive sophomore Curtis Kelley of Manhattan Rice might be another down the road UNC target.

JamesOn Curry played on the nearby court while Johnson was playing, and seemed to be out of rhythm with his jumpshot, but reports had Curry playing great in the 3-on-3 tournament in the morning.

Greg Paulus, who had a nasty fall in Wednesday evening session, missed Thursday's action. He needed to be carried off the court to see the trainer by his teammates.

Louis Williams had a nifty 13-point effort in Wednesday's afternoon session and finally got to play with Jordan Farmar and Monta Ellis on Thursday afternoon, forming a deadly fastbreak. UNC coaches were watching other games but it would have been hard not to notice Ellis and Williams streaking for layups.

In non-UNC news, Memphis star Shawne Williams is expected to announce soon (maybe today) to his hometown Tigers over Arkansas.

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