My first thought while watching the Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy game last night on ESPN2: Is that really Sidiki Johnson out there?
That's not because I doubted the 6-foot-8-inch, 220-pound, power forward's ability – for Arizona coach Sean Miller and Book Richardson to think highly enough to recruit him, he must have skills.
From what I witnessed last summer during the AAU circuit games in Las Vegas to what I saw last night in Oak Hill's 78-64 win over Arden (N.C.) Christ School, it looks like Johnson's best move was joining coach Steve Smith's renowned program. Smith's impact on Johnson's work ethic and fundamentals is quite obvious.
Johnson's pump fake-dip-swing move on the block against Duke signee Marshall Plumlee of Arden (N.C.) Christ School was particularly impressive. He showed hustle on some rebounds. And he looked like he wanted to be on the court, rather than on the bench nursing his sore knees – a departure from what I saw last summer.
In one sequence in the first half, Johnson actually motioned to Smith that he did not want to leave the court, but Smith, noticing Johnson's fatigue, replaced him.
Granted, Johnson, who missed most of the first half of the season with a hairline stress fracture in his left foot, looked winded at times. He is still trying to get his body acclimated to the demands of running the court and banging against other physical post players.
He had his hands on his hips and his mouth open trying to regain some oxygen many times against Christ School. But while trying to get that energy and stamina, he still ran the court and did not hold back while defending and trying to snare the rebound against Plumlee and Christ School's other frontcourt players.
Johnson was part of the equation for why Plumlee (7-0, 215) was only 4-of-12 from the field. Oak Hill rotated Johnson, 6-9 senior Daniel Gomis (Oregon State signee) and 6-11 junior A.J. Hammons.
Johnson had six points and six rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench. He made 2 of 3 shots from the field and was 2 of 4 from the line. He also had one blocked shot, one steal and one turnover. He committed one foul.
"They are very skilled and good kids," Plumlee told the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun. "I've seen them around a lot on the (summer) circuit. We didn't come ready today. But we've got to hand it to them."
ESPN director of national recruiting Paul Biancardi said more than once in the ESPN2 telecast that Johnson was effective out of the high post last summer. Biancardi was impressed with how Johnson converted off the spin out of the high post.
Johnson certainly has the body – he was easily the most physically imposing player on the court Friday night – and now he's gaining some invaluable insight from Smith at Oak Hill.
I must confess that I thought Johnson was more of a redshirt possibility as a freshman next season at Arizona. That was from my impression of Johnson last summer. What I saw then was a player obviously affected by growing pains in both knees.
He appeared as though he was a step slow and he labored to get up and down the court. His defense and rebounding positioning were questionable because of his knees. After Johnson suffered the broken foot and missed the start of this season, I believed he would need plenty of more time to get back to where a major-college prospect should be at this stage of his development.
Last night against Christ School, it appeared Johnson had a better stride running full court and his fundamentals were much more refined. He looks like he can actually be an asset for the Wildcats off the bench next year as a freshman, and a lot of credit for that goes to Smith.
It can't be stressed enough that Johnson's best move is not only on the block but it was landing a spot on Smith's roster at Oak Hill.
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