UA still corners market of top in-state talent with Johnson commitmentby Javier Morales on Aug. 19, 2010, under Sports
Following a game at the Fab 48 tournament last month in Las Vegas, a local reporter asked Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep guard Nick Johnson about where UNLV factors into his recruitment.
Johnson did his best impression of a politician dancing the line on a hot topic and went with, “Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve ruled them out. They’re still recruiting me. I still hear from them every now and again. …”
Johnson then looked my way knowing that I covered UA athletics — it was only me and the Las Vegas Sun reporter talking to him — and he said, “I mean, I’m not sure right now. If I get one (program) that I feel like it will be best for me, I might commit right there. But who knows?”
He then smiled. Turns out he got this urge and committed right there — to Arizona on Wednesday. Now I understand the subliminal message he was sending. Johnson and his mother Michelle surprised the UA coaching staff with an impromptu appearance at McKale Center to announce his intentions.
The most significant aspect of Johnson’s commitment in terms of the program’s image: Arizona has not skipped a beat from Lute Olson to Sean Miller when it comes to recruiting top-notch in-state talent. Any chance ASU coach Herb Sendek thought he might get with top in-state players because of Olson’s retirement is not apparent.
Johnson is from Gilbert, and although he attends the Henderson International School while playing for Findlay, he tells people that he is still endeared to his former school, Gilbert Highlands.
When Phoenix North shooting guard Daniel Bejarano de-committed from Texas last year and immediately considered Arizona and ASU, he told me he wanted in-state players to become either Wildcats, Sun Devils or Lumberjacks.
“That goes for Nick Johnson and Matt Carlino, too,” Bejarano said, referring to the former Highlands teammates who left the state (Carlino played at Bloomington, Ind., South High School last season before signing with UCLA).
“I de-committed (from Texas) because I thought I would be better off playing in my home state in front of my fans, family and friends who have always been there. To me, that’s the right thing to do. I hope guys like Nick and Matt will feel the same way.”
Bejarano and Johnson will become Arizona teammates in 2011-12. The Phoenix-to-Tucson pipeline of heralded prospects, started by Olson with Mike Bibby in 1996, continues. Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Jerryd Bayless followed. Bibby, Jefferson, Frye and Bayless became NBA lottery picks.
Miller, Archie Miller, Book Richardson and James Whitford are seemingly book-ending their talent from Arizona and New York. Johnson joins Bronx product Sidiki Johnson in the Class of 2011. Sidiki Johnson, also verbally committed to Arizona, will play his senior season at Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy. He will join fellow New Yorkers Kevin Parrom and Lamont “MoMo” Jones.
Nick Johnson will join Arizona products Bejarano and Mesa Mountain View alum Brendan Lavender.
The possibility remains that Mesa point guard Jahii Carson will join the Wildcats as well. He has already unofficially visited ASU and is tentatively scheduled to officially visit Arizona Sept. 17-18.
Miller, however, also has his sights on Sacramento (Calif.) point guard prospect Josiah Turner, who was a teammate of Johnson’s during the summer with the Oakland/Drew Gooden Soldiers. Turner’s interest in the Wildcats is not only because of Miller and the school’s history of producing NBA point guards such as Bibby. One significant reason: Nick Johnson.
“We play well together,” Turner told me after a Fab 48 tournament game. “Nick’s a good player. He gets you involved. I’ve become better playing with him.”
The rumor mill suggests Turner is down to two programs: Kansas and Arizona. Turner has scheduled officials visits to Louisville (Sept. 4), UConn (Sept. 10-11), Oregon (Sept. 17), Kansas (Oct. 15) and Arizona (Oct. 22-23). Kansas and Louisville appear to be the UA’s prime competition. Johnson also scheduled official visits with those programs before committing to Arizona. Could Turner follow Johnson’s lead?
Another Class of 2011 point guard recruit, Quinn Cook of Oak Hill Academy, lists Arizona as one of his seven finalists, but he has yet to schedule official visits with any schools.
The magnitude of Johnson’s commitment for Miller is significant because of the guard’s popularity with other players, including Turner. The newest member of the Findlay program, Class of 2012 center prospect Landen Lucas, told me last month during the adidas Super 64 in Las Vegas that playing with Johnson, “is definitely something I’m looking forward to.”
“I have not personally met him, but I played against him in camps,” Lucas said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know him. I am sure he has a lot of great things to say about Arizona.
“I’m sure he’ll get me some looks, but I think I can open up a lot of things for him, too. We’ll work together just fine. You never know if we’ll end up at the same college.”
Even at that time, before Nick Johnson announced his commitment, another prospect was hinting about Johnson’s admiration for the Arizona program.
We should have seen this coming.
Miller and his staff, who have recruited Johnson mightily since arriving in Tucson only 16 months ago, had an idea this day would come. They probably are pinching themselves, however, to make sure this is not a dream.
On the 25th anniversary of Sean Elliott‘s signing with Arizona out of Cholla High School, another in-state product can become the face of the program like Elliott became during the UA’s first Final Four run in 1987-88.