Dec. 9, 2011
By Adam Gonzales -
Nick Johnson, a 6-2 guard from Gilbert, Ariz. is living a dream he has had since he was a kid by earning a spot on the Arizona men’s basketball team.
Johnson was the first five-star recruit to commit to Arizona. He was initially recruited by former associate coach Archie Miller, but when he left for the Dayton head coaching job, current head coach Sean Miller took over.
And Miller did not disappoint Johnson in the least.
“Playing for Sean Miller is amazing,” Johnson said. “He is the same coach that recruited me."
You hear stories of a lot of people saying that a coach completely changes. That is the total opposite of him. He is still positive, and he is still that very talkative guy. So that helps you respect him.”
According to rivals.com, Johnson was the fourth-best shooting guard in the country and rated 18th among high school players. Johnson played in games at Findley Prep that were aired on ESPN and participated in the high school national championship last year.
Despite playing on a big stage in high school, Johnson has still had to adjust to the college game.
“Everybody is good in college,” Johnson said. “You could go on a 10-0 spurt and the other team will respond with an 8-0 spurt. In high school, the other team won’t always come at you with an 8-0 spurt. Everybody gives you their best on any given night.”
When the Wildcats went to New York to participate in the 2k Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden, Johnson was in awe.
“Man, that was historic,” said Johnson. “You walk in there and you know all the greats that have played there. It was amazing.”
The team received many perks, but most prevalent, a chance to use the New York Knicks locker room.
“We were in the Knicks locker room for the first game against St. John’s,” Johnson said. “I’d say ours was probably better than theirs, but just because it’s the Knicks locker room, it was pretty cool.”
Despite the perks, most college freshmen have difficulty adjusting to from high school to college life, but for Johnson, the transition has been relatively easy. Fellow freshman Josiah Turner has been by his side, going through the adjustments with him. In addition, they knew each other coming in after playing on the same AAU team for two summers.
“When Josiah is on the court with me at the same time, he just knows where I’m going to be and I know where he is going to be,” Johnson said. “It definitely makes it easier with him there.”
Johnson also played a part in Turner’s commitment to the Wildcats. As soon as Johnson committed to play basketball for Arizona, he contacted Turner immediately.
“Once I committed here, I started talking to him about it,” Johnson said. “I was on his visit with him, and I think that was a big part of it.”
Off the court, the freshmen have to adjust to college life, just like every other freshman that steps onto campus.
“I’m still getting used to the college life,” Johnson said. “Just going to class and getting used to playing with the guys.”
Because he is a basketball player, Johnson has a few more hurdles to overcome. Most students recognize him on campus and expect him to continuously represent his team and school in a positive way. But for Johnson, the added pressures are welcomed.
“It’s great to have people walk up to you around campus and take pictures with you,” Johnson said. “I know the fans here are passionate about basketball and that’s one of the reasons I came here.”
Miller has shown nothing but praise for the freshman, especially noting his performance after Arizona defeated Ball State on Nov. 13th.
“I have to give Nick Johnson a lot of credit,” Miller said. “He played his first game here as a point guard and that is a very difficult task. The pressure is high. He is just such a winner and brings so much to our team. We are extremely fortunate to have him.”
Johnson has worked on all aspects of his game in hopes of achieving his goal of making the starting lineup and on Tuesday, Nov. 29th, Johnson cracked the starting five in the Wildcats’ game versus New Mexico State.
He made the most of his opportunity, shooting 8-for-14 from the field, 2-for-4 from the three-point line and showing off a few spectacular dunks that the fans had been waiting to see from the high-flying freshman. Johnson finished the game with a career-high 19 points.
Although he enjoyed starting at New Mexico State, Johnson got the opportunity to start in front of a home crowd in McKale Center on Dec. 3rd against NAU. This was an opportunity he relished and also made the most of.
“I felt like I played pretty well against NAU,” Johnson said. “But because this game was at home, it felt more real to me. This was definitely one of my dreams.”