Prospect 'wowed'

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Thanks to a phenomenal weekend visit, Tennessee's basketball program appears to be in great shape for one of the more intriguing prospects in the recruiting class of 2014.

Only 15 years old, Justin Johnson is a 6-foot-7, 225-pound sophomore who averaged 14.5 points and 13.8 rebounds in his first two seasons at Sheldon Clark High School in Inez, Ky. One of his grandfathers is a 7-footer, so he could be truly imposing by the time he stops growing.

Basically, Johnson was blown away by his Friday evening tour of the Knoxville campus.

"He loved it," Clark High head man Kevin Spurlock told InsideTennessee by phone. "He was so excited he called me as soon as it was over. He and the coaches met for 3 1/2 hours, then he talked my leg off. He was wowed."

Most of the wowing could be attributed to Vol head coach Cuonzo Martin, who gave the young prospect his undivided attention.

"Justin was extremely pleased. He said Cuonzo was with him the entire visit," Spurlock said. "He'd been to Indiana, Purdue, Indiana State and some other schools, but all of the other places he'd see the lead recruiter, then meet with the head coach for a little bit. Justin was very impressed that Coach Martin spent the whole time with him."

Martin's attentiveness wasn't the only positive aspect of Johnson's visit, however.

"He loved the arena and the academics center," Spurlock said. "He was wowed. He really was."

Likewise, college recruiters are wowed by Johnson's potential. Indiana and Purdue have been recruiting him for nearly a year, according to his coach, and Indiana State already has offered a scholarship. Butler is showing a lot of interest, as well.

"The thing most schools like about Justin is that he won't turn 16 until May 28," Spurlock said. "He should be an eighth-grader right now. He's got a 3.5 GPA and a 21 or 22 on the ACT, plus he's a good kid from a great family."

In addition, Johnson has a hard-nosed, high-energy approach to the game.

"I've been coaching 20 years, and I've never come across a competitor like he is," Spurlock said. "He's relentless on the boards. He's got 745 rebounds in two years of varsity ball. He's just a man-child. Every time a shot goes up he's working for the rebound, especially offensively. He doesn't wait for the ball to come his way; he just goes and gets the ball."

Disproving the old adage that "White men can't jump," Johnson gets a lot of his points on high-flying dunks.

"He plays way above the rim," Spurlock said. "He's got a 36-inch vertical, and dunks are an every-night thing for him. He's not a kid that has to have a running start, either. He can take one step and dunk it."

Johnson guided Clark High to a 26-7 season in 2011-12 that ended with a 50-48 loss to East Ridge in the regional tournament. Even in defeat he starred — sinking 6 of 10 field goals and 4 of 6 foul shots en route to 18 points and 10 rebounds. He even drained 2 of 3 from behind the arc.

"He doesn't shoot a lot of 3s for me," Spurlock said. "My team saw a lot of zone, so he was asked to play inside for us, but in AAU ball they say that (3-point shooting) is a strength. He trails a play, gets the ball at the top of the key and shoots it."

Although the coach describes Johnson as "a true power forward," he admits that the prospect has some perimeter skills.

"He plays mostly post for me but he can put the ball on the floor," Spurlock said. "He can start the break and he runs the floor fairly well. They've got him ranked as the fifth-best to ninth-best returning player in the state of Kentucky next year, depending on which publication you read."

Because Johnson plays for a small school, his coach describes him as "a little under the radar," adding: "Some big school is going to get a sleeper."

For now, there appears to be a good chance that school will be Tennessee.

"He fell in love with Tennessee," Spurlock said. "We're all Big Blue fans around here but I told him I could get used to wearing orange if he goes there. That really pleased him.

"He likes Butler, too. And Indiana and Purdue have been recruiting him for almost a year. But none of them had him as excited as Tennessee."


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