Texas basketball adds elite explosiveness, length in 5-Star CG AJ Johnson

Chris Beard, Texas basketball (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
Chris Beard, Texas basketball (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images) /

What could be the finishing touch for the 2023 Texas basketball recruiting class for head coach Chris Beard and his staff arrived on Nov. 21. Texas landed a massive commitment from the elite five-star Southern California Academy (formerly of Donda Academy and Woodland Hills Taft) combo guard AJ Johnson.

Johnson is the second priority recruit to commit to the Longhorns 2023 class in the last few weeks. Texas also landed a commitment from the elite five-star Duncanville forward Ron Holland on Nov. 5.

It looks as if Beard and the Longhorns landed their two top-priority targets for the 2023 recruiting class just after the conclusion of the Early Signing Period. Texas was able to sign Holland during the Early Signing Period on Nov. 11.

And according to a report from On3, Johnson actually signed with the Longhorns during the Early Signing Period last week. He just waited to announce his commitment until a few days after the Early Signing Period (which concluded on Nov. 16).

Moreover, Texas was able to beat out the likes of the LSU Tigers, Arizona State Sun Devils, Louisville Cardinals, and NC State Wolfpack. Johnson was also considering the G-League path as an option prior to his commitment to Texas.

Johnson said that a big reason why he picked Texas was that he felt like “it’s where I’ll be the most comfortable”.

Beard and Rodney Terry did a fantastic job spearheading this recruitment for the Longhorns. Terry was leading this recruitment most of the way. He deserves a ton of credit for building this tight relationship with Johnson, especially in the last few months.

Texas was able to make a big move with Johnson during his official visit to Austin on Sep. 10. In fact, it looked like Texas started setting the pace in this recruitment in the weeks following Johnson’s trip to the Forty Acres in mid-September.

A couple of months after that critical visit to Austin, Beard, and the Longhorns were able to seal the deal with a foundational recruit in the 2023 class.

What Texas is getting in the California native Johnson is an insanely physically gifted 6-foot-5 and 165-pound guard that should have a very prominent NBA career in his future. Johnson has a ton of bounce in his game, and he’s got excellent length, especially for someone that can play at the one or the two.

Breaking down the offensive game of new 5-Star Texas basketball CG commit AJ Johnson

Johnson is definitely the second NBA Draft Lottery-caliber talent that Beard signed in the 2023 class.

The athleticism and fluidity in Johnson’s game come to the forefront in multiple different ways. He runs really well in transition, as his ball handling and quickness allow him to command the floor in ways that most players aren’t adept at.

Johnson is a good ball-handler that has a tight handle on his dribble. That handle he has on the ball combined with his quickness and stop-and-go speed makes for a lethal spark on offense.

The quickness and agility of Johnson are put on full display with an effective crossover, drive, and penetrating ability. Johnson can drive past an opposing defender one-on-one lightning fast and get to the rim where he usually excels at finishing with a basket.

He’s got a lot of confidence in his attack at the rim. But he’s also got a good pull-up game, which adds to the lethality he brings to the table as a playmaker.

While Johnson is excellent at driving and finishing at the rim, he can still create his own looks from the mid-range and deep. He’s got a smooth jump shot that translates most often from beyond the arc. But don’t get fooled, he can burn opposing defenses in the mid-range game too.

Johnson wasn’t always a good three-point shooter, though. He shot just 26 percent from beyond the arc during his junior season at Woodland Hills Taft. But he’s improved his jump shot, especially from deep, which he put on display during the Adidas 3SSB circuit as the summer progressed.

And given the solid fundamental shooting stroke that Johnson has developed in the last couple of years, his effectiveness from range should only continue to improve from here on out.

There are a lot of traits that Johnson possesses that make him a potent option as a point guard at the next level. But he does have some strides he needs to make in terms of his court vision and distribution.

Johnson averaged more turnovers than assists per game during the 3SSB circuit earlier this year and he can get tunnel vision toward the basket at times. He needs to have a little bit more patience and composure with his shot selection and distribution of the basketball.

I would imagine that Johnson is likely to play more of a hybrid two-guard/combo guard role for Beard and the Longhorns at the collegiate level. The idea of Johnson being a secondary facilitator that often fills the role of a star playmaker on offense would be a nice fit for him in this starting unit.

He could essentially be a full-on upgrade for Texas in the starting backcourt once senior guard Marcus Carr runs out of eligibility following this season.

Scouting AJ Johnson’s defensive game

Johnson does have a lot of the tools that you would want from a disruptive perimeter defender that could matchup at the one or the two. And if he fills out his frame a little bit more before the start of the next college hoops season, he has more than enough length and vertical ability to match up at the three defensively.

The aforementioned lack of weight on Johnson’s frame can limit his ability to work through contact on either end of the floor. But it most often is detrimental to his game on defense.

At 165 pounds, Johnson can easily get boxed out when trying to rebound around the rim. And some of the bigger guards and wings are able to more effectively fight through contact when matched up with him, especially within eight or 10 feet from the rim.

Johnson would ideally get up to around 180 pounds at least to present a more formidable size in defensive matchups.

And since Johnson doesn’t play off the ball that much at the moment, he could use some development as an off-ball defender.

Yet, Johnson does have the quickness/burst and length to be a real lane disruptor on defense. He’s shown flashes of that disruption in his perimeter defense in the last couple of years. We just need to see those flashes transpire more consistently.

Johnson’s length and vertical ability should also make him a serious shot disruptor and an effective defensive rebounder from the guard position. That’s where the heightened awareness on defense and adding more muscle mass could make a world’s difference for Johnson.

All of these areas of improvement for Johnson, especially on the defensive end of the floor, are very fixable with some simple solutions. He needs to put on some muscle mass and just develop a little more patients and awareness on both ends of the floor.

If that can come to fruition in the next year or so for Johnson, he will easily project as a top 10 NBA Draft prospect.

Johnson easily projects as a day-one starter for the Longhorns given his rapid development and insane physical gifts. His presence will be an immediate boost for Texas’ offense, which slogged at times last season in Beard’s first year on the Forty Acres.

Texas just doesn’t have the type of lengthy playmaker that can explode from essentially anywhere on the offensive halfcourt in the backcourt rotation right now.

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Texas is likely either going to round out this recruiting cycle with the two commits that currently sit in the 2023 class, or take one more prospect before the next signing period in mid-April. Johnson’s teammate, five-star Southern California Academy center Isaiah Miranda, is a recent Texas offer that is a name to watch for the next few months.