Coast 2 Coast Hoops
This is the latest installment in our “Past and Future” series, detailing each player’s last season and what the future holds. Remember to check PGU for the next installment!
After being relied on heavily as a freshman, Johnson’s role continued to expand as a sophomore. An integral part of the team’s identity, Johnson played 30+ minutes in 15 of the Wildcats’ last 16 games, and in 23 of their last 25.
What Johnson did in his time on the court was nothing short of spectacular. Not only did his shooting percentages improve across the board, Johnson averaged more points on less touches while deferring to seniors Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Kevin Parrom. Johnson played true team basketball, leading Arizona in assists with 112 on the season.
More impressive though, is how Johnson emerged as the team’s top defender. As one of the most well rounded guards in the country, Johnson supplemented his offensive contributions with lock down perimeter defense and an array of sensational steals and blocks.
Johnson chipped in a team leading 68 steals, good for 29% of the team total. Solomon Hill was next with 40. And Johnson didn’t just get above the rim for dunks, he blocked 20 shots as well. By comparison, 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski had 23 blocks. And that’s not a knock on Tarczewski, that’s a testament to Johnson’s defensive ability.
“I take that personally, knowing that I’m the main defensive guy and my energy really affects the team,” Johnson said during the 2013 NCAA Tournament. “I’m taking it personally upon myself to do it every single game and show my team I’m playing really, really hard. It’s contagious.”
What kind of a season recap would this be if I didn’t mention The Immaculate Rejection? An instant addition to Wildcat lore and one of my personal favorite moments in Arizona hoops history, the game-saving block against SDSU was the perfect encapsulation of who Nick Johnson has become as a player. When his team needed it most, Johnson’s defensive toughness and world class athleticism came through and provided the extra spark needed for victory. And it wasn’t even his defensive assignment, but he made the play. That’s the kind of player Johnson has proven to be.
Johnson played 70 games as an underclassman, starting all 35 in the 2012-13 season. Now that he’s a junior, he’ll have to draw from that experience and become a true team leader.
Though he’s not the oldest player on the team, Johnson is without question the most battle tested player Sean Miller has at his disposal. He’s been through the Pac-12 slate, he’s beaten highly ranked non-conference opponents, and he now has NCAA Tournament experience under his belt with a Sweet 16 to show for it. As Arizona’s young players mature, heads will turn to Johnson as a source of confidence and direction.
However, with Duquesne transfer TJ McConnell running the point, Johnson’s role will certainly be tweaked. McConnell will likely facilitate most of the offense, so Johnson may not be relied on as a distributor and probably won’t lead the team in assists again. But he’ll have extra opportunities to be an off ball slasher and spot-up shooter, two aspects of Johnson’s game that are still developing.
With all the young talent on the 2013-14 Arizona roster, some players would see a situation with too many mouths to feed. That’s something you’ll never have to worry about with Johnson. Over his first two years, Johnson didn’t just play within the team concept, he thrived in it. He’s the type of player that doesn’t have to be the first or second option on offense to make his impact felt; Johnson gets his without dominating the ball. He’s the perfect player to surround with elite talent, it only makes him better.
So with the most talented supporting cast he’s ever had in his career, expect Johnson to continue his personal growth while providing more of the same team-inspiring effort on a nightly basis. The term “heart and soul” is thrown around a lot in sports, but for Arizona, Nick Johnson is truly both.