As the 2011 summer circuit drew to a close, the 16U Memphis YOMCA team had one goal in mind: winning Nike Peach Jam. With 0.5 seconds remaining in the championship game, it looked like the Nick King led squad was going to fall short. Instead, a CP3 All-Stars’ player came down on the baseline — turning the ball over — giving YOMCA one more shot. JaJuan Johnson lobbed an inbounds pass toward the rim, Nick King tipped it in, and it was all over. The boys from Memphis had clinched the Nike EYBL 16U National Championship, 74-73.
Much has changed since that day. East High School senior Nick King is still a nationally ranked star player, but he is not alone. Southwind shooting guard JaJuan Johnson decided enough was enough, and he used the past year to propel himself into the national spotlight.
“I got tired of being in the shadow, so I started working as hard as J3 (Jonathan Williams III) and Nick (King) because they were getting all of the attention. I knew I was just as good as them, so I worked just as hard as them to get where I’m at now.”
For Memphis YOMCA, Johnson took a backseat to Nick King. On his own high school team, Jonathan Williams III garnered all the press. To stand out, Johnson had to take his game to another level.
“I was in the gym a lot more than I was [in the past]. I’d be at the gym first, I’d be at practice first, and I’d stay after practice to get a lot more shots up.”
His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Johnson — now a consensus top 50 recruit — shot up the national rankings for the class of 2013. Instead of taking a backseat this summer, he has been given every opportunity to showcase his talents. He attended the Kevin Durant Basketball ProCamp, the LeBron James Skills Academy, the Nike Global Challenge, and is now preparing for another run at a Nike Peach Jam title.
“I like playing against people that they (media) say are better than me. I like playing against them and trying to see where my game is at.”
The increase in attention has also turned up the heat on Johnson’s recruitment. While he isn’t ready to pinpoint a top group just yet, many schools have targeted the rising senior as a top priority.
“Memphis, Alabama, Texas, Georgetown and Florida State are recruiting (me) the hardest. They call me the most and just try to build a relationship with me. And that’s a plus for me because I’m trying to build relationships with teams.”
While Johnson claims no leaders at the time, he does maintain that Alabama, Memphis, Louisville, and Texas stand out the most.
The hometown Tigers have a lot going for them. Johnson says that he has dreamed of playing in front of the home crowd since he was young and also has strong relationships with some of the current University of Memphis players.
“Chris (Crawford) and I went to the same middle school. When he was going to high school, I was going to middle school. He came to a lot of my games and I went to his. So we built a relationship from then. I (also) talk to Adonis (Thomas) a lot and he’s like a mentor. He tells me what to do and what not to do. And we hung together when we were at Kevin Durant’s camp.”
For now, recruiting is on the back burner. Johnson’s main focus is on the task at hand; Nike Peach Jam. He and his YOMCA teammates are looking to reclaim the title and end the summer on top.
“Hopefully we win it and go out with a bang,” Johnson said.
Memphis Roar will be on hand all week at the Peach Jam, which runs from July 18-22. Be on the lookout for more from JaJuan Johnson and other University of Memphis targets.
YouTube version for mobile users: