Indiana first got involved with Xavier Johnson before the Hoosiers even made a coaching change. He left Pittsburgh on Feb. 24 before the season was over and entered the transfer portal immediately. Indiana assistant Kenya Hunter, who like Johnson is a native of the northern Virginia suburbs around Washington D.C., made the contact because the two go way back.
“Kenya is like family to me,” Johnson told The Daily Hoosier. “That’s my guy. He recruited me out of high school.”
In between that initial contact and Wednesday, when Johnson announced his commitment to the Hoosiers on his Instagram page, a lot changed for both him and Indiana. Johnson was being recruited by practically everyone, and his final four schools included national champion Baylor and the Houston team that lost to Baylor in the Final Four. The Hoosiers fired Hunter’s boss Archie Miller and hired a new one in Mike Woodson.
But Woodson kept Hunter on his staff, and the long-time NBA coach convinced Johnson that the wide-open offensive system he intends to bring with him to Bloomington will perfectly suit his talents.
“The main thing he told me is that he doesn’t pigeon-hole his point guards,” Johnson said. “He lets them rock. That’s one thing I looked at. The offense is going to be an uptempo offense and that’s one thing I fit.”
That’s been clear in his three seasons at Pittsburgh when he averaged 13.7 points per game including 15.5 per game in his freshman year and 14.2 per game in his junior year. He proved to be excellent at getting to the rim and finishing, making 45 of 80 attempts at the rim this year according to Hoop-Math.com and 96 of 185 in his freshman season. He was also excellent at making plays for others. His 5.7 assists per game this season put him second in the ACC this year behind Prentiss Hubb of Notre Dame and his 42.3 percent assist rate was the fourth highest in the nation according to KenPom.com.
He should get plenty of opportunity to make plays in Indiana’s offense. He will have to beat out junior Rob Phinisee and freshman Khristian Lander for the starting job, but the 6-foot-3, 205 pounder has a much more expansive track record of production at the college level than they do.
He has had some issues with turnover rate, however, posting a 23.0 percent figure last season, so he knows that has to come down.
“I just have to slow down and continue to watch a lot of film,” Johnson said. “Coach Woodson is going to put me in the open floor so I can make a lot of plays.”
Johnson said the most important thing about his game that he wants to change is his jump shot. He was a career 33.6 percent 3-point shooter at Pittsburgh and his average never climbed above 35.2 percent for a season. According to Doug Martin, his Nike EYBL coach at Team Takeover, Johnson has something of a hitch in his jumper that was never fixed at Pitt. Johnson said he’s open to changing that if Indiana coaches tell him it’s right to do so.
“I want to be able to shoot the ball at a consistent level,” Johnson said. “I want to increase my 3-point percentage to 40 percent. … When I get to Indiana, I’m going to let those guys tell me what to do to fix it.”
Johnson said he trusts Woodson and his staff with his personal development. A big part of the reason why he decided to transfer from Pitt, he said, is he didn’t feel like he got better after his freshman season, when he made a loaded All-ACC freshman team that also included Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones and Coby White.
“I would like to thank Pitt for allowing me to come to their program,” Johnson said. “In my freshman year I opened a lot of eyes but in my sophomore and junior year, I just didn’t think I really got better. I felt like it was the right decision to leave, but I wish them the best of luck.”
Johnson said he does trust Woodson with his personal development, in part because he didn’t tell him how great he is now. He admittedly spent a lot of his sophomore year thinking about getting into the NBA draft, but now he’s not on that radar and knows he has a long way to go to get there.
“He’s a very truthful guy,” Johnson said of Woodson. “He didn’t tell me I was ready for the NBA. What he was telling me and what I heard from him was pretty good. I just want to go in there and win and make an impact from Day 1.”
Johnson said he heard from another native of the Washington-D.C.-Maryland-Virginia suburbs who supported his decision. He got in contact with former Indiana All-American and current Miami Heat guard Victor Oladipo, who also played with Team Takeover in the springs and summers when he was at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., and has remained an ambassador for Indiana in that region.
“I talked to him today,” Johnson said. “I told him my decision and he was happy for me. It means a lot to me, because I played at the same AAU program. Seeing his success up there, and me wanting to bring it back, that played a huge part in my heart.”
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