There was the relationship Sidiki Johnson developed with the Arizona coaches, head man Sean Miller and assistant Emanuel (Book) Richardson, the last two years. The familiarity he had with two of the incoming freshman, former St. Raymond’s teammate Kevin Parrom and neighborhood friend Lamont (Momo) Jones. The campus was beautiful and the atmosphere laid back.
But when it came down to making a decision, it had more to do with what was on the table – a free education and chance to join a prestigious program synonymous with producing NBA players.
“I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity I had,” said Johnson, the rising junior who verbally committed to Arizona on Saturday, one day after playing in front of Richardson at Summer in the City, a one-day AAU event at St. John’s. “I had to go with my heart. I felt this is the place I want to be.”
It was why the chiseled 6-foot-7 Johnson, a FiveBoroSports.com All-City third team selection who averaged 11.3 points per game for St. Ray’s, committed so early. He had programs like Kentucky and Providence, the next closest suitors, knocking at his door. Bernard Bowen, his stepfather and AAU coach with the Long Island Lightning, said Johnson didn’t want to have to schedule recruiting visits and talk with any more coaches or reporters about his status.
“Honestly, people can say it’s early because he’s a sophomore, but at the end of the day, it’s over, there’s nothing he has to worry about,” Bowen said. “Sidiki is a quiet kid; he’s not like the rest of the kids, as far as being up in the media. We don’t do this for that, we do it because he loves to play the game of basketball and he has the opportunity to do some great things in the future.”
Johnson took an official visit to the Pac-10 power Thursday with Bowen. They spent nearly the entire time with Miller, who Johnson felt a special bond with, touring the campus. There, Johnson got to know about the history of the program, the national title in 1997, the 25 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and 21 consecutive 20-win seasons, the NBA players like Richard Jefferson, Khalid Reeves, and Gilbert Arenas.
While at Xavier last winter, Miller watched Johnson play four times. They first met the year before, when Miller was recruiting Parrom.
Johnson and Bowen credited Richardson, a Harlem native like Johnson who coached with the New York Gauchos, Marist College and Monroe College in the Bronx before joining Miller’s staff in 2007. In fact, he used to live near Johnson.
So does Jones, a former Rice standout. Johnson talked to Jones and Parrom about the program, and the general lifestyle out west. They had nothing but rave reviews for him.
So was the direction of the program under Miller and Richardson, who have already built an outstanding recruiting class for this season.
At Xavier, Miller led the Musketeers to four NCAA Tournaments and an Elite Eight berth in 2008. Johnson expects nothing less – from the Wildcats or himself.