Xavier Johnson’s breakout has revitalized Pitt basketball

first_imgAs an eighth grader, Xavier Johnson scored 66 points in a regulation game. It propelled him to one of the top high schools in the nation — Bishop O’Connell (Virginia) High School— but one thing always held him back: his 5-foot-6, 130 pound size.He relied on his speed to beat taller defenders, but lacked control and vision to compete with top players in the country. It made him struggle early in his high school career, but the sophomore started to grow in his body. He got stronger, and eventually played better, his high school coach Joe Wootten said.“I always used to used to call him a Ferrari without breaks,” Wootten said.Now a freshman at Pittsburgh, he’s in a breakout season, averaging 17.1 points and 4.7 assists per game, both team-highs. With fellow freshman Trey McGowens, Johnson has led a resurgence for Pitt basketball, who is in the thick of the ACC race at 12-5, after going winless in conference play a year ago. But if it weren’t for the learning curve he experienced as an undersized guard against elite high school talent, Johnson’s breakout first season may have never happened.“(Head coach Jeff Capel) told me he needed a point guard,” Johnson said, “and that he would take me to the next level on and off the court.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textJohnson grew up in Woodbridge, Virginia, and learned basketball from his father, Michael, who played Division III basketball at Covenant College. His father had a lot of talent as a young prospect, Johnson said, but made mistakes that cost him a chance at playing professionally.Michael didn’t want the same to happen to his son. He molded Johnson to become a great basketball player. When Johnson first started playing basketball at his local YMCA, Michael noticed he didn’t dribble with the proper technique, so he changed his form.Because of his father, Johnson gained acclaim as a middle schooler, leading him to Bishop O’Connell. The program’s produced players such as former NBA Draft pick Kendall Marshall.The plethora of talent caught up with Johnson, though. He was too small to score in bunches, like he did when he was younger. Johnson knew he had a motor, but realized how to play with differential speeds — sometimes playing fast, others playing slow.Eventually, he grew into his body, growing nine inches by his senior year making him a 6-foot-3 guard at the time. Now a taller guard, Johnson won the Washington Catholic Player of the Year averaging 18.4 points and 4.3 assists per game.“He ended up being the player of the year in our conference,” Wootten said, “… and kids are ready from there.”Johnson agreed to play at Nebraska, but later decommitted after the departure of former assistant coach Kenya Hunter. From there, Johnson chose Pitt.Following his growth spurt and player of the year honors, Johnson was given the keys to Capel’s offense. With a lack of point guard depth, Johnson has played the most minutes of anyone on the Panthers despite being in his first collegiate season.He’s scored double-digits in all 17 of their games this year, even netting 25 points in 24 minutes against then-No. 15 North Carolina State. Now, the freshman finally has confidence in himself, something he rarely felt in high school. And the results are showing.“(Johnson’s) got all the things you can’t coach,” Wootten said. “Great speed, explosiveness, that great competitor, who just loves to play and you can see it when he plays.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+center_img Published on January 18, 2019 at 9:50 pm Contact Alex: [email protected] | @alexhamer8last_img

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