With 23 days until the start of the Virginia Basketball season, we take a look today at a new face who will be wearing #23, Nigel Johnson.
As a season of potential uncertainty dawns in Charlottesville, one newcomer to the Virginia Cavaliers has the potential to help the Hoos break a stereotype that has been following them since their rise to prominence.
UVA has ranked in the bottom-eight of Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo ratings for the last four seasons, and ranked last of all teams in the country the past two years. Their average of 59 possessions per game was their lowest since the statistic was first tracked since 2001-02. In short: UVA takes it nice and slow on offense. Part of that is because of the mover-blocker system preached by head coach Tony Bennett, but a lot of that also has - had? - to do with four-year starter at point guard, London Perrantes.
Perrantes and his “Cali Cool” attitude are looking for a home in the NBA now. With Perrantes’ graduation and Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson, and Jarred Reuter transferring out of the program last spring, Bennett and his staff had an opening for high-quality minutes at guard.
Enter Johnson, the grad transfer from Rutgers.
Johnson averaged 11.3 points per game with the Scarlet Knights as a redshirt junior last season, including five 20-point games, after scoring 4.1 points per game as a freshman and 5.2 as a sophomore at Kansas State. He got a brief look from UVA coming out of Broad Run High School in Ashburn, where he was the DMV’s leading scorer as a junior in 2011-12, assistant coach Jason Williford told VirginiaSports.com in August.
“One thing that was really important to me was going to the tournament, and secondly it's my home state. Since I was in high school, I've always wanted to come to UVA,” Johnson said on Monday’s media day. “Just to have that chance and that opportunity, transferring from Rutgers, it was a no-brainer for me.”
What can UVA fans expect from him in 2017-18?
Johnson probably won’t start, at least initially. The shared familiarity with Virginia’s system, both on offense on defense, of Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and Devon Hall will likely lead those three to get starters’ minutes early in the year. That being said, Johnson will be the first or second guard off the bench, and he’ll bring with him a new element that Cavaliers fans haven’t seen from a point guard in quite some time.
Johnson’s quickness, willingness to force the issue tempo-wise, and scoring ability contrast with Perrantes’ profile as a classic point guard - the floor general who distributes first and can shoot the long ball when called upon. Guy said Monday that Johnson is “too quick for himself” with the ball, and Johnson himself said, “to have somebody with the speed I have that can get in the paint and open up the floor and create for others, I think that's something else that they needed here.”
How does Bennett evaluate Johnson’s talent? “We needed, we thought, some athleticism, a guy who could be a point combo type of player. Nigel brings some quickness; a guy that offensively speaking can touch the paint and he can get it going shooting the ball,” he said. “We're hoping he'll be able to, at times, pick up the ball, pressure the ball, guard quick point guards or real quick offensive players ... he's shown some really good flashes, but he's got a lot of game experience.”
If enough breaks go their way, it’s not hard to visualize the Cavaliers making a return trip to the Sweet 16. Could they make their first Final Four in 34 years? If they do, Johnson will likely have played a significant role.
Virginia’s season starts on Nov. 10 at home against UNC-Greensboro. Streaking The Lawn will have daily coverage of the preseason as tip-off approaches!