'Archie-de-yack-in-no!' - NCAA.com
Former UK and NBA star, Rex Chapman impressed by Nick Johnson
I've watched Nick Johnson run up and down the court since he was 8 years old. And I say “run up and down” because that’s about all Nick did on the floor for his first four or five years of playing organized basketball. He ran up and down the floor, not really knowing what he was doing or who his man was — and he couldn’t dribble. But, Nickalways had a smile on his face. He cracked me up that entire summer.
Nick, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson and my son, Zeke, all played together on a Phoenix-area team I was sort of roped into coaching during the first year I retired from the NBA (2001). Most of the youngsters on that team had been playing for a couple of years. Nick really had not. He was one of our biggest kids and just as he is now for head coach Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats, he was easily our most athletic kid.
Nick hit the equivalent of the genetic lottery. His father is Joey Johnson — a standout player at Arizona State while I played at Kentucky in the mid-to-late ’80s. Joey was and is the single highest-jumping 6-3 dude I’ve ever played with or against. Joey’s older brother and Nick’s uncle is the late NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson, who beat up on me regularly my first few seasons in the league.
That 8-year-old team I coached was the first team and the last team I would ever coach. But I kept up with all of the kids on the team through the years. Nick really began to work at becoming a basketball player during middle school. By the time he became a freshman in high school you could tell that he had a chance to be a very good ball player.
The one question I had about Nick was that he rarely played as hard as he could. As most really gifted athletes do during high school, Nick took shortcuts — because he could. After his sophomore year at Gilbert Highlands High School in Arizona, he transferred to Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev. This did Nick Johnson wonders.
I spoke to Miller last year after their second game of the season and asked Sean how Nick was adjusting to college. More directly I asked, “Is Nick working hard?” Sean looked me dead in the eye and said, “Rex, Nick has come early to practice and stayed late since Day 1. I couldn’t be more pleased. He can help us get this thing turned back around here very quickly.”
If you haven’t had a chance to pay close attention to the Arizona Wildcats and Nick Johnson during this 2012-2013 season thus far, you probably should make a point to do so. The addition of Mark Lyons has allowed Nick to slide over and play off the ball a bit more this season. But having been pressed into playing the point for Miller’s team in 2011-2012 did Johnson wonders. His handle is tighter and he’s become a much better basketball-player — guy who makes plays for others, ie, winning plays.
Nick Johnson is still smiling regularly on the basketball floor. But now he has game to go with that smile.