CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Brice Johnson is set to join some elite company.
With Monday's selection to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-America First Team, Johnson's No. 11 North Carolina jersey has qualified to hang among the "Honored" jerseys in the Dean E. Smith Center rafters.
"It means a lot, whoever thought I'd end up there - I never even thought I'd be here," Johnson told GoHeelsTV. "It's very special for me to be able to say that I can one day have my jersey hanging in there..."
The senior from Orangeburg, S.C. was a unanimous All-ACC First Team selection this season, and finished second in the conference's Player of the Year voting. He is averaging 16.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game for a Tar Heel team that's captured both the ACC regular season and tournament titles, and heads into the NCAA Tournament this week with a No. 1 seed. Johnson leads the ACC in field goal percentage (61.4%) and rebounding.
“All the accolades that he gets… I don’t think anything will take the place of him getting the ACC championship," said Herman Johnson, Brice's father and high school coach. "He always wanted to win something while he was there and that took some weight off his shoulders.”
Johnson's league-leading 20 double-doubles includes a 39-point, 23-rebound performance at Florida State and a combined 47 points and 40 rebounds in two games against Duke
He is the second member of the 2015-16 UNC team to qualify for the honored jersey recognition, as Marcus Paige earned second-team All-America honors from The Sporting News as a sophomore in 2014. Johnson and Paige will be the 50th and 51st jerseys recognized in the rafters, eight of which are retired.
The criteria for earning honored status at UNC is first- or second- team All-America (by the Associated Press, NABC, USBWA, or The Sporting News), ACC Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player of NCAA Tournament-winning team, Most Outstanding Player of NCAA Final Four, or Olympic gold medalist. A national Player of the Year award is required to have a jersey retired.
“It’s been a development process," Herman Johnson said. "He’s taken it one step at a time. The more you grow, work and develop the better you’re going to be. What we thought could happen, it took a little time and he wanted it to be faster, but sometimes it just takes time.”
A gifted offensive player from the outset, Johnson's physical and mental maturation at UNC have been a four-year process that involved adding more than 40 pounds and learning to bring consistent energy and focus. He became a double-digit scorer off the bench as a sophomore, earned Third Team All-ACC and All-ACC Tournament honors as a junior, and then blossomed into the star of a Top 10 team as a senior.
“Brice, I’ve pushed, I’ve pushed, I’ve pushed, I’ve pushed, I’ve pushed, and he’s done some amazing things this year offensively," said UNC coach Roy Williams, who has been Johnson's toughest critic. "It’s on one hand the number of people I’ve ever coached in 28 years that’s been able to do the things that Brice Johnson has done. The points and the rebounds, and I want him to give more defensively, and I want him to get more in all that kind of stuff, and I’m going to still do that. But he’s been pretty doggone impressive with some of the things he has done.”
Video courtesy GoHeelsTV. Sherrell McMillan contributed to this report.