Photo courtesy of Jon Lopez/Nike
By David Cordova
In the high school class of 2020, there seems to be plenty of athletic leapers and showmen on the national scene. Everywhere you look, you see a highlight of them on YouTube from entities such as SLAM, Overtime and/or Ballislife, garnering the companies hundreds of thousands of views, while proclaiming them as the next one.
One of those next great ones is Jalen Johnson. The 6-foot-8 forward is rated as the No. 4 recruit in the current senior class by ESPN and there’s a good reason why. His athleticism and ability to make plays is effortless. Whenever he’s on the floor, you just know he’s going to make a highlight-reel play.
Over the summer at the NBPA Top 100 Camp at the John Paul Jones Arena on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, he made his presence felt amongst the nation’s best in front of many potential college coaches vying for his services and NBA scouts that will one day be making him a part of their franchises. That day may possibly come a year and half from now in June 2021.
“I’m really confident with the ball, growing up I’ve played point guard most of my life, so having those ball skills and being able to rely on them is huge in times like this, especially at a time when you need ballhandling,” says Johnson when describing his game.
When asked how he is best utilized, he replied, “Just let me play my game and moving me all around. Letting me have the freedom to bring the ball up, just make plays, really.”
During the NBPA Top 100 Camp, he had great chemistry with Paolo Banchero, a highly-touted junior out of Seattle, as both were on the same team. When asked about teaming up with Banchero, he replied, “Paolo’s really good, man, like really good. He’s definitely going to be a pro one day, I like playing with him, it makes our lives a lot easier, just him being able to pop out, roll, and push the ball is huge, so yeah, I like playing with Paolo.”
A native of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, which is a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin, Johnson made a splash as a sophomore at Sun Prairie High School, by averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game. As a junior at Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wisconsin, he stepped up his game and averaged 19.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game and won the AP Player of the Year award and the Gatorade Player of the Year award in the state of Wisconsin. He also led Nicolet to the Division II state championship and helped the team finish the season with a No. 8 national ranking in the USA Today national poll.
On the Nike EYBL circuit, he ran with Phenom University, which is a Milwaukee-based program on the rise which features other high-major prospects such as Virginia commit Reece Beekman, forwards Jamari Sibley, Carter Gilmore, Jaemyn Brakefield and Patrick Baldwin, a top-five recruit in the Class of 2021.
This summer, Johnson averaged 17 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game for Phenom University on the circuit and led them to a berth at the Nike Peach Jam. When asked about the two-year old Phenom program, he replied, “We’ve done some great things in a matter of only a year and a half, it’s a family, we all love playing with each other, I think that’s what separates us from other AAU teams. We just enjoy one another, we bond on and off the court, there’s no type of beef or anything, we just love playing with each other, we embrace it, we embrace the moments [and] we love being coached.”
On the Fourth of July, Johnson made a big move by committing to Duke University, where he’ll be playing for legendary Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski. When asked about Duke’s blueprint for landing players of his caliber meant anything to him, he replied, “Yeah, just to see what Coach K does with versatile wings, [like] Justise Winslow, Jayson Tatum, Cam [Reddish], R.J. [Barrett], just to see what he does with a bunch of talent and makes them a special group.”
Also, on August 5th, he announced that he would be transferring to national powerhouse IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where he will be playing with a good group of players in fellow senior Jaden Springer, junior Moussa Diabate and sophomores Brandon Huntley and Jarace Walker.
This season coming up will be very exciting for Johnson, as he will make highlight-reel plays, make a bid to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game in March and also help lead the Ambassadors to a second straight national championship in April. And then there is next year, when he’ll be playing for The Brotherhood in the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium before the Cameron Crazies fans. And who knows what else is in store for the Wisconsin native. All there is to know, is that Jalen Johnson is destined to make plenty of noise in the future.