When newly appointed assistant Isaac Chew made a visit to Memphis to see Jajuan Johnson, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard told Chew thanks, but no thanks.
At one point Johnson had coveted Marquette as his potential landing spot. But that was before lead recruiter Scott Monarch was fired in late August. After Monarch’s abrupt dismissal, Marquette completely stopped recruiting Johnson, according to him. He hadn’t heard from the Golden Eagles, was disappointed that one of his top schools had disappeared and moved on with the process.
So when Chew arrived at Johnson’s home approximately eight weeks ago, according to Shaun Williams, Jajuan’s mother, Johnson told Chew his mind was made up. He didn’t want to hear about Marquette. His recruitment was over. He was sold on Anthony Grant and Alabama.
But Chew wouldn’t take no for an answer. According to Shaun, Chew asked for 10 minutes of the family’s time to make one last pitch for Marquette.
That pitch, which centered around building a relationship with the entire Johnson/Williams family and making Johnson, a top-70 recruit, Marquette’s priority made all the difference. It came full-circle when Johnson committed to Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles last week.
“It was like the real passion about what they do,” Johnson said of Chew and Williams’ in-home visits, which came once a week after Chew rebuilt the bridge between the two sides. “It wasn’t about basketball. It was about life. They want me to be more than a basketball player. They wanted to talk about life and how they’ve changed other kids.”
Marquette almost didn’t get the opportunity to change Johnson.
Last fall, according to Johnson, he saw two Marquette coaches enter the Southwind H.S. gymnasium to watch a practice or shoot-around. Monarch and Williams were in attendance to see Johnathan Williams III, Johnson’s teammate and top-40 recruit in the 2013 class. Johnson, who hadn’t garnered much attention from Division I programs at the time, knew who Marquette was there to see, and it wasn’t him.
“As soon as I saw them in the gym, I was like, ‘Man, I hope I have a good day,’” Johnson said, laughing at the memory still fresh in his mind.
He must have had done something right, because that same day he received a phone call from the coaching staff saying they were interested in recruiting him.
Johnson’s recruitment blew up during his junior year, as he grew to 6-foot-5 and showed an impressive offensive display with a forward-type body. On some recruiting websites, Johnson was ranked as high as No. 33 in the 2013 class.
The scholarship offers continued to pour in, with the likes of Louisville, Texas, Memphis, Florida and Cincinnati all offering, just to name the top schools.
“It was hard,” Johnson said of the frantic increase in offers and attention from Division I schools. “I blew up out of nowhere and [schools] started recruiting me, but I knew which schools had been on me first and which schools showed the most interest in me.”
By in-large, the two schools that topped both those lists were Alabama and Marquette. The Crimson Tide were the assumed leaders much of the summer, but Chew and Williams’ constant visits to Memphis evened things out as the fall came around. Miami (FL) was also in consideration, but it was really a two-team race when decision time came.
Chew and Williams convinced Johnson to make what would ultimately be his final official visit, to Milwaukee, during Marquette Madness. The importance of the timing of the visit was that three of Marquette’s committed 2013 recruits — Duane Wilson, Jameel McKay and Deonte Burton — were also in attendance.
Johnson said in an earlier report that the class had pressured him into committing, but he explained that quote, saying he did more asking questions than the commits did recruiting.
“They didn’t really put any pressure on me,” Johnson said. “I was asking them why they committed so early, and they were telling me the reasons. I got to meet with them and they weren’t cocky. They were just humble guys.”
One of those recruits, Wilson, had a past friendship with Johnson. The two were teammates and roommates at the Nike Global Challange in July, and again played together at the LeBron James Skills Academy that summer.
Johnson also got to watch a Marquette practice, and saw video of one of Williams’ Boot Camp sessions, which both his mother and me enjoyed seeing.
“I really liked it,” Johnson said. “I knew I needed something like that in my life, and I had never experienced anything like that.”
Marquette’s commitment to basketball compared to the two other schools, football hotbeds Alabama and Miami, was also a deciding factor.
But perhaps the most telling factor that led Johnson to ultimately lead him to his decision was Buzz Williams’ success in getting players to the NBA.
Williams’ three recruits now playing in the NBA, Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, were all under-the-radar junior college prospects who were molded into NBA material at Marquette. That said plenty to Johnson.
“My ultimate goal is to get to the NBA, so I looked at who’s got the most players, and it was Buzz,” he said. “Looking at the type of players he got [to the NBA], he wasn’t getting high talent guys [out of college] there, so imagine what he would do with top-50-type players.”
Johnson arrived back in Memphis following his official visit to Milwaukee, and said he made his decision the week of his announcement, on Nov. 2.
He didn’t, however, let Chew or any of the Marquette coaching staff in on the decision until right before he announced at his high school on Friday.
“They were hyped, they were really excited,” Johnson said of the coaches’ reactions. “[Buzz] told me he was happy to have me, and that when I got there that we were going to win.”
A recent change with Johnson has been on his decision to sign in the late period.
It was first reported he would definitely wait until the spring, not the fall, but both Williams and his mother were impressed by what they saw on the official visit to Milwaukee.
Johnson said he wants to watch Marquette play Ohio State, as well as its two home games on Nov. 11 and 13 before deciding on whether or not to sign. The early signing period begins Nov. 14 and goes until Nov. 21.
When asked if he had to guess what he would do, Johnson said, “I’ll probably sign early.”
The 6-foot-5, 188-pound slasher said he’s most comfortable shooting the 3 on offense, and needs to work on his defense and rebounding his senior season.
The Marquette staff told Johnson they would like to see him lead the 2013 class in scoring, and his offensive versatility could work into his favor as a freshman, when he said he expects to be an instant contributor.
His ball-screen action and ability to get to the lane should serve him well in that regard, something the Marquette staff told him on his official visit.
But all this would have been for naught had Chew not made the trip to Memphis, when originally Johnson was ready to show the new assistant the door and commit to Grant and the Crimson Tide.
But the family-oriented culture Johnson saw on his trip to Marquette coincided with what Chew accomplished on that initial visit, forming a relationship with Johnson’s entire family in the process.
“It wasn’t just that they wanted me,” he said. “They were talking to my brothers and sisters and all my coaches, trying to get a good feel. They’re just a really family-oriented team.
“I want to win. I know I’m a scorer, but it’s all about winning.”