By almost any way of figuring, Xavier Johnson had an excellent freshman season for Pitt.
Serving as the team’s primary point guard from the first day of the season, Johnson was named to the all-ACC freshman team and broke Pitt’s 30-year-old freshman scoring record.
As the Panthers enter the second season of the Jeff Capel Era, the play of Johnson, along with fellow sophomore guards to be Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney, is a major source of optimism that the program will be able to exceed its 14-19 record of last season.
But how long will Johnson be providing that source of optimism? Perhaps not as long as some thought.
A consensus three-star recruit coming out of Bishop O’Connell High School in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia, Johnson didn’t come to Pitt as a player that looked like a likely one-and-done prospect.
But two-and-done just might be the ticket.
Johnson said to Pittsburgh Sports Now toward the end of the 2018-19 season that he didn’t see himself as a four-year college player.
“I honestly don’t seen myself being here for four years,” Johnson said. “Me and my dad talked. He doesn’t see me here for four years. My AAU coach doesn’t see me here for four years, either.”
In April, ESPN’s early mock of the 2020 NBA Draft featured Johnson as the No. 39 pick, a high second-rounder. Each of the first 12 picks and 18 of the top 20 picks in the 2018 second round played in the NBA as rookies. The NBA rookie minimum this past season was $838,464.
That’s just a mock draft, of course, but it appears that Pitt has been paying attention and is preparing for a post-Johnson future at point guard.
Capel has been hard after a trio of highly rated Class of 2020 point guards in Butler’s Ethan Morton, who Capel visited earlier this week, fellow four-star Andre Curbelo (Long Island Lutheran), who Capel is visiting Thursday and three-star R.J. Davis (Archbishop Stepinac).
At first, the focus on the position didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, as Johnson would be entering his junior season when those players were freshman. Talented and highly sought after prep players are often looking for an easier transition to the stating lineup than attempting to unseat a potential all-conference player.
But if there’s a chance that Johnson might depart for the NBA, it makes all the sense in the world, and that’s exactly what Capel is saying to those players that he’s recruiting.
“He told me that there’s more of a sense of urgency now for him to get a point guard in my class just because of the fact that it seems that after the year that Xavier Johnson had and if he continues to grow and get better there’s a chance he could be gone to the NBA after next season,” Morton told PSN’s Mike Vukovcan on Wednesday.
Johnson has been one of Capel’s biggest recruiting coups so far, going from under-recruited gem to fast-rising star. But in modern day college basketball, even those players have to be replaced more quickly than they used to be.