Meet Brian Johnson. He's a 6-9, 221-pound post player getting a lot of attention from the Carolina coaching staff – and he's only 15 years old. This sophomore talent, who attends Arlington (Va.) Bishop O'Connell, showed last weekend at the Charlie Weber Invitational that he's undoubtedly going to be one of the top players in the Class of 2004.
A native of Laurinburg, N.C. Johnson has already made several unofficial visits to the Carolina campus, including this past year's UNC-Duke game at the Dean Dome and was in town in mid-August at a football event, and more visits are planned for this coming season. And, judging by his quotes below, the Tar Heels are in very good shape.
We watched two of Johnson's games at the Weber Invitational, where he played for the DC Stars 16-and-under team. In those two games, he averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. Johnson was most comfortable around the hoop (he said his hook shot is his most dangerous weapon), but showed that he had a good mid-range touch, though they didn't fall for him when we watched.
"The first time that I had the chance to see Brian Johnson, I was shocked to find out that he was only a freshman," said Clint Jackson, IC's Recruiting Analyst. "That was last year at the DeMatha Invitational in Washington, DC. I was in awe of his polished moves on the low blocks at such a tender age. He really ran the floor well and showed suprising maturity with his decisions. He also scored outside as well, showing a nice touch out to about 16 feet.
"At Charlie Weber, Johnson looked broader and stronger than he did a year ago and was more active on the boards than he'd been before. He's a classic power forward with a nice drop step, a few reliable post moves and a nice jump shot. His form on his free throws looks great and he gets his hands on a few blocked shots as well. I think more people are impressed with his mature game and developed go-to moves than his athleticism, and that's not saying he's a bad athlete, because he's a solid one."
"He's got a lot of agility," O'Connell head coach Joe Wootten told IC's David Thompson (Joe is the son of DeMatha legend Morgan Wootten). "He's got a lot of natural quickness, which is great, but I think he's really worked hard to improve his ability to post up and demand the ball, which he did a good job of tonight. Getting the ball in the post, he's doing a very good job of reading when he's doubled because he's getting doubled and triple-teamed sometimes. He kicks it out and we hit a couple of threes off of that, which is great. It helps the team as much as anything else.
"We're working with him every day—individual skills. We're working with his post moves, working on his ability to post up. And he's working hard in the weight room, working on plyometrics—his jumping ability [through specific exercises in the weight room]. And I think I'm really happy [because] he's really defending well. He really moved his feet for a big man. You know a couple of times the guards came at him and they tried to go by him and he moved his feet well which is good.
"Eventually we're going to work it to where he's going to turn and face the basket, on his own. He can get to the short corner and shoot jump shots. He's got a great touch you saw. So those are all things which will come in time.
He may get to 7 feet. Obviously it's a guess. As long as he's willing to work hard, he really doesn't need more height. He'll be in great shape."
After a Friday evening game against the Pittsburgh Shockers, IC's David Thompson caught up with Johnson, who said he's been recruited by Carolina for quite a while.
"It was when I was 12—they were looking at me then," he said. "[The coaches were] Phil Ford and Bill Guthridge."
He won't sign a letter of intent until Fall 2003, but he has already focused on a select few schools.
"Just North Carolina, and maybe Georgetown," he said.
So, is there a leader?
"UNC–I've seen the program and I just love it," Johnson said. "I'm from North Carolina (my grandmother and most of my people are down there). I'm just real excited for Carolina to be recruiting me. They say they love my game and they want me to come."