July 10, 2006

James Johnson blows up at Nike

Every year there are a handful of prospects that seemingly come out of nowhere during the July evaluation period and become highly coveted by high major programs almost overnight. One such performer this year is Cheyenne, Wyo., East 6-foot-8 forward James Johnson, who went from unknown entity to Nike Camp All-Star in a matter of days.

Johnson had generated a moderate amount of interest from Mountain West Conference schools through this spring, but the reality is, when a young man is growing up playing basketball in Wyoming, it's easy to go overlooked.

When we first saw Johnson playing at the Las Vegas Easter Classic in April for Bob Gottlieb's Branch West Team Reebok, he wasn't even listed on the team's roster, and frankly, was undeservedly getting second billing on a team with a pair of Simi Valley, Calif., Stoneridge Prep players, Ibrahima Thomas and Boubacar Sylla.

After that first viewing we approached Gottlieb to ask about Johnson and found out he'd led Cheyenne East to a state championship and was named tournament MVP. Gottlieb said that by the end of his recruitment, Johnson would probably have scholarship offers by most if not all the Mountain West schools. At the time, we had a sneaking suspicion that Johnson would get a whole lot more attention than that.

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