Coast 2 Coast Hoops
Unbeknownst to most Wildcat fans, Sean Miller and his staff compiled a database of potential recruits that they could and would target at Arizona before the job was ever formally accepted. The number one player on that list was not Minnesota Timberwolf Derrick Williams, and it wasn’t any of Arizona’s star studded and nationally lauded 2012 class.
It was Nick Johnson.
Nick Johnson, who hailed from Gilbert, Arizona, of Oakland Soldiers and Findlay Prep fame. That was the guy that Sean Miller pinned at the top of the list, years before most Cat fans heard of the ultra athletic guard.
And now, after a brilliant AAU and high school career, it’s Johnson that is leading the University of Arizona to its first 6-0 start since 1999.
It’s not just the numbers that are there for Johnson. He’s putting up 13.7 points, 4.2 assists, and an insane 2.3 steals through 6 games, improving in nearly every statistical category as a sophomore. But Johnson’s biggest step forward has been a new level of maturity and leadership on the court.
It wasn’t that long ago, 16 months to be exact, that Sean Miller asked Johnson to leave campus and spend time at home away from basketball. Miller was worried that Johnson was working too hard, as the incoming freshman was putting up an extra 800 shots in addition to daily workouts, and had attended both summer sessions to get a head start, against Miller’s advice.
Miller turned out to be right, as Johnson hit the proverbial freshman wall and drew the ire of many fans as Arizona sputtered down the season’s home stretch. But those fans have little to complain about now, as Johnson has emerged as a bonafide star and perhaps Arizona’s most critical player.
Don’t get me wrong, the Wildcats truly have an embarrassment of riches and you could point to a number of different players that boast talent, experience, or both. But I’ll posit to you that Johnson just might be the most important cog in the Arizona machine.
Apart from his all around game and what he can do in the box score, Johnson simply has the personality that teams rally around. He’s a cohesive presence in the locker room, he’s one of those guys that lift the spirits of a team with their demeanor and attitude. And when he elevates for a breakaway dunk, McKale Center elevates with him.
Right now, Johnson is the heart and soul of this team. And if his current trajectory is any indication, pretty soon he’ll become even more significant than that. What we’re seeing from Johnson as a sophomore is a player that is stepping up to the occasion. What we could see in his junior and senior years, though, could be the makings of a true Wildcat legend.