Lake Clifton grad Durand Johnson ready to sign with Pittsburgh

Durand Johnson scanned the gym and saw the college basketball coaches walking in with notepads.

It was two years ago in July, and the attentive group was at a summer-league game to see the opposing team's point guard, which was just fine with Johnson.

Playing in his last game that season for the Cecil Kirk 16-under Amateur Athletic Union team, he hit some 3s, showed off a mid-range jumper and attacked the rim.

Most importantly, Johnson confidently turned the corner.

"Going into that game, I just felt if I really wanted to get successful with basketball, this was my chance to show what I got. This is where I show people that I'm an elite player. So I just got it in my head that whenever I got the ball, I was going to make something good happen," said Johnson, who averaged 15 points that summer before pouring in 30 that day.

The Lake Clifton graduate, a long and athletic 6 feet 6 and 190 pounds, is 18 now and attending Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., this year to further build on his promising future.

Johnson eventually landed more than 20 offers from Division I schools, and the versatile swingman plans to sign a national letter of intent to play for Big East-power Pittsburgh in 2011-12.

"I was big on schools that I thought really wanted me and needed me, and Pitt showed that the most. They showed me a lot of love and a lot of support, and I felt it was the right decision for me. It's a great place, and I can't wait to get there. It's like one big family. Once you're a Panther, you're family forever," Johnson said.

The Pitt program under coach Jamie Dixon is known for its toughness and blue-collar, team-first approach, which appears to be an ideal fit for Johnson.

"In addition to being able to shoot the basketball, Durand has a mental edge where he's got a chip on his shoulder that drives him. That toughness is part of his skill set," said senior basketball recruiting analyst Dave Telep. "The thing with Jamie and Pittsburgh, it's not just an evaluation of talent, an evaluation of size. It's an evaluation of what a guy is going to do when his back is against the wall. And Durand Johnson, when his back is against the wall, he'll come out throwing haymakers on the basketball court. That's why they like him."

Johnson says part of the edge he comes to play with is attributed to the influence his older brother, Derrell, had on him while growing up. Derrell, a talented freshman defensive end at East Carolina, often banged with Durand on the basketball court as if they were on a football field.

"Whenever I played with him, I'd make sure to play him hard. And I may have fouled him at times on purpose to let him know this is how it is sometimes. Tough love is what I called it," Derrell said.

Said Durand: "For a long time I could never score on him because he was so strong and aggressive. But I was eventually able to cross him over and score on him. I knew I was making progress. Derrell has always been my biggest critic and he's really hard on me, but I understand why."

After averaging 15 points last year in his only season at Lake Clifton — he spent his high school freshman year at St. Frances before playing two years at Parkville — Durand is looking to further polish his skills at Brewster, a national prep school power that featured Baltimore standouts Will Barton (Memphis) and C.J. Fair (Syracuse) on last year's team that won the National Prep Championship.

Brewster coach Jason Smith expects Johnson to play a major role as a scorer and team leader. Johnson is looking forward to the challenge with a goal set on improving his strength, ball-handling and finishing around the rim.

"It's competitive — another level before I go to Pitt," Johnson said. "I just want to work on my game, so as soon as I get to Pitt I won't miss a beat and I'll come in ready to play. That's what they want me to do — be ready to play."

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