Indiana doesn’t know the fate of all of its players in the transfer portal yet, but the Hoosiers learned they will gain at least one highly regarded player out of it. Pittsburgh junior point guard Xavier Johnson announced on his Instagram account Wednesday that he will transfer to Indiana after averaging double figure scoring in each of his three seasons with the Panthers. He becomes the first player recruited by new Indiana head coach Mike Woodson from outside the program.
Johnson was also considering national champions Baylor, Houston and St. Joseph’s.
Johnson averaged a combined 13.7 points and 4.9 assists per game in his three seasons with 14.2 points and a career high 5.7 assists this season. He scored a total of 1,152 points with the Panthers but entered the transfer portal before the season was over in late February.
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The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Woodbridge, Va., native gives the Hoosiers a third option at point guard along with Rob Phinisee and Khristian Lander, and he will likely be the best at the three at creating offense for himself and for others. He shot 43.1 percent from two-point range in his three seasons with Pitt. According to Hoop-Math.com, 42.6 percent of his shots last season came at the rim and he made 56.2 percent of those. The only one of Indiana’s guards who was that effective at the rim was freshman wing Trey Galloway.
“One of the things Xavier has is above average, elite athleticism and quickness for his size,” said Doug Martin, who coached Johnson with the Washington D.C. based Team Takeover program on the Nike EYBL circuit. “Being 6-2, 6-3 and being able to run, jump, pass, shoot and dribble with his body moving that fast and making those decisions that quickly is probably the greatest asset that Xavier has.”
Johnson can defend on the ball and off the ball, as he averaged 1.5 steals per game and 3.7 rebounds per game in his time at Pitt. He’s not a great outside shooter, but he made 93 3-pointers in three seasons, hitting 33.6 percent of his attempts.
“The biggest thing he needs to fix is shooting the basketball,” Martin said. “He doesn’t have the Steph Curry type shot. He has that funky hitch in his shot. I honestly thought when he got to college they were going to change it, but I think at Pitt they thought he was so comfortable so confident in the shot that they decided not to change that shot at all.”
Johnson started with Pitt in coach Jeff Capel’s first season and made the All-ACC Freshman Team in 2018-19 with Duke’s Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Tre Jones and North Carolina’s Coby White, all of whom are currently in the NBA. He averaged 15.5 points per game that season and Martin said it ended up messing with his perspective.
“I think his sophomore year he was looking at draft boards,” Martin said. “The four other guys on that All-Freshman team were lottery picks. That made him look for something that wasn’t there instead of him letting it find him. His sophomore year he really struggled. I think this year he was starting to round out into what everybody thought he would be as a player.”
Martin said Johnson’s designs for his fourth college season are more immediate. In three years with the Panthers, he didn’t play on a team with a winning record, and he’d like to see that change.
“This is not an indictment on anything that Pittsburgh basketball did,” Martin said. “But I think he wants to go somewhere that he’s trusted. I think he wants to go somewhere that he has a legitimate shot at winning, and I think he wants to go somewhere where he impacts the winning. Not saying that he didn’t have that at Pitt, but that’s what he’s saying he wants now.”
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