The Pacific Northwest has proven to be rich with basketball talent in recent years, though the Cardinal have not signed a player from the region since Curtis Borchardt in the 1999 class. Stanford might snare another frontcourt player from Washington state in the form of Artem Wallace or Jon Brockman, but the recruit in this junior class who has quietly made the most progress in his Cardinal recruitment is point guard Mitch Johnson. This 6'1" 180-pound floor general hails from O'Dea High School in Seattle, where he recently led the Fighting Irish to the Class 3A state championship.
Johnson had averaged 18 points per game during the regular season but turned it up with 24 and 27 points in clutch semifinal and final victories, respectively. He scored seven of his 27 in the title game in the second overtime of a thriller that upset two-time defending state champs Rainier Beach, helping him earn Tournament MVP honors.
"Scoring in those games was just something that I needed to do, so I did it," Johnson coolly comments. "I was happy with how we finished up the season - happy with how we elevated our game."
His is not a flashy game, however. Mitch Johnson did not lead his team to 24 wins this year by out-quicking opposing guards or gunning for big point totals from the perimeter. His is a subtle game that impresses with all its intangibles, rather than the measurables.
"He has a solid handle, is an average athlete, and has a stroke that is not good but makes a reasonable percentage," comments West Coast hoops scout Greg Hicks for TheInsiders. "He's a true point guard, with a very good feel for the game - very competitive, great leader and a winner."
"I have the ability to make other players better," Johnson adds. "Especially at the point guard position, you are expected to be the quarterback of the team. I get the ball to my teammates when they need it and in the right position, but I also need to know when to not give the ball to them in bad positions."
In this way, you might call the O'Dea junior a "throwback" player for his court sense and leadership abilities. Too many point guards today are shooting guards trapped in a point's body, looking to create for themselves first and teammates second. But this is not to say that Johnson does not understand how to score. Averaging 18.6 points on the season, he put up his fare share of jumpers, though he also deviates from the norm for today's point guards. Rather than chuck up an endless barrage of three-pointers, or lower his head in a mindless drive to the basket, Johnson seeks out a different scoring niche.
"I think the midrange shot is the hardest shot to guard in basketball, so that's the shot I try to work on," he reveals. "Whether you drive from half-court or run in the full-court, you can always find your shot in that range."
Johnson made plenty of waves in the winter as he led the Fighting Irish to their state title, but you have heard little since then of his basketball exploits. That is because he has played little since then. His AAU team is the mighty Friends of Hoop Seattle, who have premier 2005 talents like Brockman, Martell Webster and Micah Downs, which is an all-star arrangement of top Emerald City talents. But they made just one of the major April events during the evaluation period: the Boo Williams in Virginia that helped kick off the month. They did not travel to Vegas for any of those big events, and they were a late cancelation for the Kingwood Classic in Houston. That's bad news for Johnson, who played average ball at best at the Boo. With no redeeming opportunities during the evaluation period, college coaches are left hanging until July for a chance to get excited about him again.
"The difference with AAU ball is obviously the level of talent around me," he explains. "I find myself with this team getting caught up in getting other guys the ball, and I don't try to score. I need to get more aggressive and find a balance of offense for me."
In the coming weeks, coaches may not be able to watch Johnson and the FOH Seattle, but you will undoubtedly hear about him at a pair of major events. Look for him in New Orleans at the Memorial Day Classic, then closer to home at the Rose City Showcase in Portland. In July he will hit the Nike All-American Camp for a second straight year before rejoining his AAU team for the Peach Jam in North Augusta (S.C.) and then back out West for events in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
With a 3.5 cumulative GPA at a top private school like O'Dea and a 1210 SAT, Johnson is certainly primed for a strong Stanford recruitment, and he reports nothing that falls short of that expectation. The Seattle point guard has already completed his admissions application and handed it over to assistant coach Eric Reveno in late April when the Cardinal coach made his on-campus visit to meet with Johnson. He also reports that he has an official visit set to see Stanford the first weekend of June, from Thursday the 3rd to Saturday the 5th. That is the same weekend that standout SoCal center Jordan Wilkes will visit The Farm. Point guard-center chemistry is a key to any basketball team, and you can bet these two will hook up for some pickup ball on that overlapping Friday.
Johnson maintains that he has no leaders currently, and he shies away from giving a definitive list of his schools, as well.
"I just want to give everybody a fair chance," the politically savvy point guard positions. "I have been wide open and listening to everybody. Different schools are in different stages of recruiting with me."
He does reveal that five schools came by for on-campus visits with him in April: Washington, Stanford, Gonzaga, Missouri and Indiana. No schools have made firm offers to him at this time, despite earlier reports that the Huskies had taken that plunge.
As a kid who grew up in Seattle, it comes as no surprise that Johnson has been a Husky fan for as long as he can remember. With their late-season surge this past winter in the Pac-10, including the highly touted upset win over 26-0 Stanford in March, there could be countless reasons to write this recruit down for a future in the purple and gold. But Johnson cautions against such exuberance based on a few recent wins.
"I may have grown up a Husky fan, but they haven't been too good," the Northwest native offers. "And you can't get yourself too excited with this season. Remember five years ago when Bob Bender took them to the Elite Eight. They dropped off a cliff in a hurry after that, and this year they didn't even make it close to that far [in the NCAAs]."
Point well take, Mitch. As for the Cardinal, it goes without saying that there is significant interest. Johnson is one of a very rare few recruits in this 2005 class to have so rapidly completed and submitted his admissions application. He is also taking just the one official visit to The Farm this spring - with his mother and step-father. That sets the table nicely for Mike Montgomery, if the pieces fall into place.
"Stanford is a very good school academically, obviously. I know they're really good in basketball, too," Johnson comments on the Card. "They have a great coaching staff, from what I can tell so far, and I like the environment they have down there, from what I can tell from the people I have met and talked with."
Mitch Johnson is currently rated the #9 point guard on the West Coast by Tracy Pierson and Greg Hicks of TheInsiders.
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