JaJuan Johnson: Breaking down his choices

JaJuan Johnson will choose between Alabama, Marquette and Miami on Nov. 2. (Photo credit: Future150.com)

JaJuan Johnson, Marquette’s top priority at shooting guard in the 2013 recruiting class, is nearing a decision. The top-60 recruit is an athletic slasher with the ability to shoot from the perimeter with loads of potential as he enters his senior year of high school. He’s one of the top defenders in the 2013 class, and while he will need to add muscle to his 6-foot-5 frame, he could be a contributor from Day 1 wherever he winds up.

The cousin of Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Lou Williams averaged 22 points per game his junior season for Southwind (Tenn.) High school and is teammates with Johnathan Williams III, a top-50 recruit who orally committed to Missouri last week.

Johnson was first listed publicly with Marquette in May. One month later, an interview with Johnson listed Louisville as his leader (following his first official visit), with other offers including Memphis, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Marquette, Cincinnati, Miami (FL), Virginia Tech, Florida and Texas.

He had drawn interest from Kentucky and Georgetown, and had hoped Duke and North Carolina would show interest, saying he would probably commit if either of those two schools offered.

Scholarship offers never came from any of those four schools, and in September he had narrowed his list to Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Louisville, Memphis, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas and Marquette. Prior to that update, hometown Memphis had been his top choice, but Josh Pastner secured a commitment from 4-start 2013 SG Markel Crawford in August, taking the Tigers out of the race.

The next week, Sept. 14, Johnson was on an official visit to Miami, thus adding the Hurricanes to his list of schools. By then, he had taken Memphis and Florida off his list. In late September, Florida State had Johnson in for a visit but was never considered a real option for his services.

In early October, Johnson took an official visit to Alabama, the perceived leader for his services after Louisville was no longer listed. It could be that Louisville’s stellar 2013 recruiting class, including 6-foot-5 4-star shooting guard Anton Gill, was a reason why, but for whatever reason the Cardinals were out.

Texas seemed like a perfect fit for Johnson, who was scheduled to take an official visit to Austin in late October. The Longhorns have no 2013 commitments and two shooting guards, Andrew Dick and Dean Melchionni, graduating after this season. But on Oct. 8, Johnson canceled his visit, telling Adam Zagoria “[t]he Texas staff and I decided it was that it was the best thing for me and the program.”

Last up was an official visit to Marquette, which he took the weekend of Oct. 12 for Midnight Madness. Johnson’s tour guide was 2013 point guard commit Duane Wilson. The two played together at the LeBron James Skill Academy. Fellow commits Deonte Burton and Jameel McKay were in attendance, as well.

Johnson contemplated a visit to Connecticut after his Marquette visit, but ultimately declined. That left Alabama, Miami and Marquette on his final list, and he told Zagoria he will make his decision on Nov. 2 after discussing pros and cons with his mother, Shaun.

It’s worth noting that he will not sign his letter of intent until the spring period, wanting to watch the team he commits to in 2012-13 before making his decision.

So where does that leave his three schools?

Johnson’s mother said he will look for the school that best fits him academically, with their style of play and the potential to have an early impact.

Here’s how each school will fit in to what Johnson is looking for when he makes his decision a week from Friday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide have gone from no postseason, to the NIT to the NCAA Tournament in three years under head coach Anthony Grant. Grabbing 4-star McDonald’s All-American Devonta Pollard for the 2012 recruiting class will only help the Tide trend in the right direction, which is probably why Johnson said, of his thoughts on Alabama, “It’s a good program. They think they’re only a couple years from competing for a championship.”

Johnson seems to want to play right away, which isn’t outlandish for a top-70 recruit whose skill set will should allow him to contribute immediately. The only senior set to leave the Crimson Tide next year is shooting guard Andrew Steele, and Grant has just 10 scholarship players in 2012. That leaves  four open scholarships, and two have already been taken by 4-star forward Jimmie Taylor and 4-star power forward Shannon Hale.

There is a bit of a logjam at shooting guard, with Rodney Cooper (will-be junior in 2013), Trevor Lacey (junior) and Levi Randolph (junior) all averaging 5.0 points or more and and 17 minutes or more per game last year. Still, Johnson could see time in a smaller lineup, though the Crimson Tide tend to play bigger.

In terms of pace of play, Anthony Grant’s teams have played slower. In three years at Virginia Commonwealth, his Rams averaged out as the 192nd fastest team in the country. Last year, his Crimson Tide were the 298th fastest team.

Location is a major factor, as Johnson noted. He is about three hours from Tuscaloosa, much closer than Miami or Milwaukee. Two sources confirmed to TideSports.com that Alabama feels it is “in good shape” to land Johnson.

Marquette: There’s no denying that, of the three schools on Johnson’s list, the Golden Eagles have enjoyed the most recent successes. Sweet 16 appearances the last two seasons have put Buzz Williams’ program on the national recruiting stage, as seen by his past two classes. Also helping Marquette’s cause is that it is the only school of the three with an emphasis on college basketball, as Johnson noted, “The atmosphere was crazy because it’s a basketball town.”

For now, point guard Junior Cadougan is the only senior leaving after next season. Center Chris Otule’s status for his sixth season has not been decided, though the Journal Sentinel’s Michael Hunt reported yesterday Otule will have that option. While Vander Blue, Todd Mayo and Jamal Ferguson will be around at shooting guard Johnson’s freshman season, the 2013 guard’s versatility as a “switchable” in a three-guard offense should allow him immediate playing time.

Johnson would join a recruiting class missing one piece: a scoring two-guard. Point guard Duane Wilson, small forward Deonte Burton and junior college power forward Jameel McKay are on board, but a pure scorer in Johnson would complete the class that would move into the consensus top-5. Marquette has long been after a scoring guard, specifically missing out on Kendrick Nunn, so there’s good reason for Johnson to be a top priority for the Golden Eagles.

If pace of play is what Johnson is after, Marquette fits the bill. As Buzz Williams continues to build the roster he covets, Marquette’s pace has increased thanks to his emphasis on fast-break offense. Last year the Golden Eagles played the 16th fastest pace in the country, up from 129th in 2010-2011. And while Marquette loves to run, it also stresses a half-court offense based on the perimeter. It’s hard to find a player who won’t fit in Williams’ offense, but Johnson’s pure athleticism (run ‘n gun) and outside shooting (half court) would fit well.

One difference to note between Johnson’s visit to Marquette and Alabama is technique used by fellow recruits. Johnson said on his trip to Milwaukee the 2013 class was more active and “the whole time they were trying to get me to come down there [and commit],” according to Zagoria.

At Alabama, Johnson said “it wasn’t a ton of pressure for me to come in. They just told me what it’s like being on campus. Basically they just showed me a good time.”

Miami: The Hurricanes have missed the NCAA Tournament nine of the last 10 seasons, with NIT berths three of the past four years. The hope is that coach Jim Larranaga, who came to Miami after being at George Mason from 1997 to 2011, will change that recent fate. The Hurricanes should make the NCAA Tournament this year, which could vault their recruiting efforts going forward.

The Hurricanes will lose six seniors after this season, and will have seven scholarships open (Melvin Johnson was not admitted by the school). They bring in combo guard Bishop Daniels in 2012 and, in 2013, have two 3-star shooting guards (Deandre Burnett, Davon Reed) coming in next year. Still, there’s room for Johnson to play right away, as he noted “I can come in and get immediate playing time because they have a need there, and I feel like I can be one of the big names when I get there.” It seems Larranaga is pulling out all the stops to land Johnson while touting him as a major building block for the future.

In its first year under Larranaga, Miami’s style of play was slower than average, ranking 253rd fastest in the country. In his last six seasons at George Mason, the Patriots averaged out as the 273rd fastest-paced team in the NCAA.

The Hurricanes’ 2012 team is full of shooting guards, with Garrius Adams, Trey McKinney Jones and Durant Scott all seniors this year. So Johnson is correct; there’s a good chance he starts his freshman season if he chooses Miami.

That being said, Rivals recruiting expert Eric Bossi said Miami is running behind Alabama and Marquette. Playing time may not be as important to Johnson, but Miami is in the running seemingly for that reason.

So where does that leave Johnson? Visiting Marquette last has its benefits for Buzz Williams, but TideSports.com and Rivals.com recruiting expert Eric Bossi believes the Crimson Tide are still the team to beat for Johnson’s services. Anthony Grant was the first coach on him, offering him one of his first scholarships as he began to shoot up recruit rankings.

Based on his own comments, it seems Johnson will choose between the proximity and early/consistent recruiting from Alabama, immediate playing time at Miami and the best chance to win and play with the most talented roster at Marquette. What will he choose? We’ll known in a little less than two weeks.

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