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UNC Sets Sights on Pittsburgh Transfer Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson scored 24 points against the Tar Heels at the Smith Center earlier this year.

One obstacle in the way of North Carolina's recruitment of Cameron Johnson is gone. One still remains.

Johnson, a 6-8 forward who graduated from Pittsburgh and has two years of eligibility remaining, has been in contact with the UNC staff over the last week since receiving permission from Pittsburgh to speak with ACC schools.

“I've been talking with Coach (Roy) Williams and Coach (Brad) Frederick a little bit too,” Johnson said. “When I got my release back in April, I tried to get Pitt to take (the ACC transfer block) down and they wouldn't take it down. I just got that decision back in the mail about a week ago -- they allowed ACC schools permission to contact me, but they put on that I'd have to sit out a year if I went to an ACC school.

“Of course, with the permission to contact, Coach Williams and Frederick reached out to me, which they weren't able to do before. Had I been able to get in contact with them all along, I would've been in contact with them all throughout the process.” 

Johnson is graduating Pittsburgh in three years. He was a member of the National Honor Society in high school, earning Ivy League offers before choosing the hometown Panthers. He's a two-time member of the All-ACC Academic Team. He has two seasons of college eligibility remaining because of a medical redshirt in 2014-15 after suffering a shoulder injury.

“My main focus when making the decision was just leaving Pittsburgh,” said Johnson, a Moon Township, Pa. native. “It was a very hard decision to make, having grown up there, my dad (Gilbert) played at Pitt (1988-90), I played three years, it was very hard to leave. Most of my decision-making process was coming to terms with leaving.”

His current release from Pittsburgh - which makes him immediately eligible to play at all programs except those in the ACC, where he’d have to sit out this coming season - is a clear sticking point for Johnson.

“Now Coach Williams is trying to see if we can get Pitt to release the one-year sit-out on my release,” Johnson explained. “The most important thing now is getting it so I can play right away. It doesn't make any sense to just lose a year of eligibility, because I'm already on the clock on my five (years of eligibility to play four seasons). The main focus is just to get that down.

“I think it's just contacting certain people now who are within all of this. It's mostly what they're doing right now, in terms of talking to the ACC people and Pitt people. If I have to do further action in the future, then I'll do what I have to do.”

Johnson is coming off a redshirt sophomore season at Pittsburgh in which he averaged 11.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists. His 41.5 percent shooting on three-point attempts ranked fifth in the ACC.

One of his best performances happened in Chapel Hill earlier this year. Johnson posted a game-high 24 points, shooting 6-for-9 on three-pointers, in Pittsburgh’s 80-78 loss at the Smith Center on Jan. 31.

“I've played against them four times now and I guess I played well down there,” Johnson said. “We had them on the ropes for a while and we missed the game-winner. I had a good game, but I did miss three threes (laughs) and I don't like those misses. Just seeing, playing in the ACC, I kind of bring experience to the table."

Mutual interest between Johnson and the Tar Heels is apparent.

“Because they're going through what they're going through with me, it shows their interest level is very high,” Johnson said. “Having played against them for the last couple years, I got a feel for how they play. I like their style and it's definitely a situation that interests me."

The departure of North Carolina’s ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson creates a clear void and potential role for Johnson. Both are listed at 6-8, 210 pounds. Both led their respective teams in made three-pointers in 2016-17. Jackson made 2.6 three-pointers per game while setting the UNC record for made threes in a season. Johnson was not far behind with a 2.4 rate.

“With Justin Jackson leaving, it opens up a hole because we play similar positions,” Johnson said. “I guess (Coach Williams) sees that I can come, step in and fill that need.”

Since announcing his transfer, Johnson has taken official visits to Arizona, Kentucky, Oregon and UCLA, which leaves one of the NCAA-allowed five official trips remaining. There is no limit on unofficial visits, however, and he is also considering TCU and Ohio State.

“I do have that last visit available,” Johnson said. “In a sense, it is for this kind of situation, but I wouldn't say I'm holding it for North Carolina. When I scheduled my last couple, and was scheduling a couple more, I did keep North Carolina in mind.

“There's no plan yet, but I would like to visit UNC. It's a dead period now, and that's made it tough. I wanted to get down there before the dead period, and they wanted me to get down there yesterday and the day before. But they had other functions and things were moving. We don't have anything planned, but it's a possibility from here.”

While figuring out any potential additional visits, Johnson is also keeping an eye on the NBA Draft decisions involving his schools under consideration.

“There's still some moving parts with the draft,” he said. “Some guys from Arizona (Rawle Alkins) and some guys from Kentucky (Hamidou Diallo). Once those moving pieces start to settle, other teams, too - even North Carolina with (Tony) Bradley - it will give me a clearer picture of everybody's roster. That'll be a sign to wait a little bit longer or not wait a little bit longer."

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