In Anthony Lewis' mind, there was no way Durand Johnson could've gone wrong.
The longtime Cecil Kirk coach saw his star player earn scholarship offers from more than 20 Division I basketball programs, including Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Seton Hall and St. John's.
"I don't think any of the schools could've been a bad fit for him. All the contenders, they really had a legitimate shot. I thought he agonized long and hard on those schools, because he couldn't go wrong on them. … But he was an early, heavy lean toward" one of those Big East programs, Lewis said.
On Monday night, Johnson committed to the program Lewis believed he had favored early on. The 6-foot-6, 190-pound Lake Clifton graduate is headed to Pittsburgh.
"It feels good," said Johnson, who will attend Brewster (N.H.) Academy this fall. "They were there from Day One. I just really knew I was No. 1 for them."Johnson is the fourth Baltimore native to join the Panthers in the past three years. Guards Jermaine Dixon and Chase Adams (Mount St. Joseph) graduated in the spring, while former City forward Aron Nwankwo will walk-on at Pitt this fall.
Johnson spent his freshman year at St. Frances and his sophomore and junior seasons at Parkville. He transferred to Lake Clifton for his senior year, teaming with top-ranked point guard Josh Selby in hopes of leading the Lakers to their second straight Class 3A state title. While the Kansas-bound Selby put up big numbers, Johnson faded to the background and Lake Clifton fell short of its championship goals.
"At Lake Clifton, it was different playing with a score-first point guard like Josh," said Johnson, who averaged about 15 points as a senior. "It really humbled me, not getting touches. It was basically a learning experience, just something I had to go through. But I was used to being the man, scoring and making plays. So by [Selby] being that player, it just made me rebound and get more defensive stops. It made my all-around game better."
When Johnson hit the AAU circuit with Cecil Kirk in the spring, however, it was business as the usual for the three-star prospect. He quickly resumed his role as the club's top offensive threat. College coaches and scouts couldn't help but notice.
"First of all, the guy does one thing at an extremely high level: he scores," said Scout.com analyst Dave Telep. "And because he has been underappreciated, he has this constant chip on his shoulder. And to me, that almost defines what Pittsburgh guys are. I think Durand Johnson will have a pretty good college career. He's a junkyard dog, exactly the kind of talent they like."
Telep said Johnson's size and versatility will allow him to play either shooting guard or small forward in college. He should have no trouble defending either position, and "he flat-out knows how to score." Hoopmasters.com analyst Van Coleman acknowledged that Johnson needs to add strength during his time at Brewster, but his athleticism and competitiveness should serve him well right from the start.
"He's an excellent shooter and he's a big kid who can put it on the floor," Coleman said. "He can play the 2/3 and can guard the 2, 3 and 4 positions. He's a quick competitor who can really shoot the basketball. He came out in the middle of the summer and shot the ball. So I think you're going to see him in a lot of Top 100 lists when they're done in a couple weeks."
"They basically said I've got to come in and be ready to play," Johnson said. "They're losing both their wings, Gilbert Brown and Brad Wanamaker, so I can come in and make an impact and be ready to play. I've got to go in and work hard, and get a college-ready body so I can come in to the Big East and be ready to play right away. It's going to be big."
Handout photo courtesy of Durand Johnson.