Darrell Johnson took an official visit to Kansas State this past weekend, and it didn’t take him long to realize K-State was the place for him. On Tuesday, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward from St. Louis verbally committed to play for the Wildcats, marking the first recruit Bruce Weber has landed since becoming the K-State head coach less than three weeks ago.
And while Johnson is still a senior in high school, part of his game is already college ready.
“College coaches have come to our high school games and they’d tell me our college kids don’t defend as well as him,” Russell Vincent, the head coach of Johnson at Parkway North High School, told The Mercury on Tuesday. “Numerous college coaches — some I have very good relationships with — you talk to them and they don’t (lie) to me. They told me he could play college basketball on the defensive end of the floor for (them) right now. They’d tell me he could help us.”
Johnson, who possesses a 7-foot wingspan, averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks per game this past season. So while his offensive numbers weren’t bad, it was his defense that caught the eyes of college coaches around the country.
“I’ve been around the game for quite a while, and he’s one of the best high school defensive players I’ve ever seen,” he said. “He’s just an unbelievable defensive presence.”
Vincent recalled games this year where opponents only scored two points in the paint, due in large part to his forward’s presence.
“He just controls the basket,” he said. “He really understands the defensive side of the ball — helping off his man, bumping cutters, working ball screens. And on top of that he’s an all-out hustle guy. He’ll go get every rebound — if it’s in his area or even it it’s not in his area he’ll go get it.”
Vincent said Johnson’s offensive game really took off during his senior season, which he said is typical for big men, as they grow more into their body.
“In the last year he’s really developed his offensive game like a lot of big kids, has come in and really gained his coordination and developed some moves,” he said.
“He’s a left-handed kid and right now he is a basic post player but he definitely has the ability to step out and has a quick first step, especially to his left.
“He’s unselfish. He knows his game right now is probably not the best on offense, so he’s not going to take a shot he shouldn’t take. He’s going to be a guy who will set a solid screen on offense.
“He had a very solid senior year.”
That senior campaign drew the attention of high-major schools. Johnson chose K-State over Memphis, Virginia Tech and several other schools, all of whom offered Johnson, Vincent said.
“Minnesota offered him in the fall but he wanted to hold off,” he said. “There were all kind of mid-major offers and even Clemson tried to hop in late. After his senior year a lot of larger schools came in hard and quick but the two schools it came down to really was Virginia Tech and K-State.”
Johnson liked that Manhattan was just six hours from his home. He also had developed a relationship with both Weber and K-State assistant Chris Lowery, who had heavily recruited Johnson when he was still the coach at Southern Illinois.
“He had the relationship with Coach Weber, and really with Coach Lowery from them recruiting him at their former schools,” Vincent said. “He really enjoyed knowing there were two guys there he had relationships with.”
Vincent said that Lowery caught Johnson’s attention with how he developed Randal Falker at Southern Illinois. Falker, just like Johnson, was a left-handed forward from St. Louis who averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks per game his senior year of high school (2002-03). By the time his senior season ended at Southern Illinois, Falker was named the Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year and was a First-Team selection by the league’s coaches.
“(Falker) and Darrell are a lot alike in how they play,” Vincent said. “He really liked Coach Lowery and his ability to develop big guys.”
Johnson is expected to sign his Letter Of Intent sometime in the next week, and will report to K-State in early June. And then the real work begins — work that Vincent expects him to put in.
“He wants to be good. He wants to be better,” Vincent said. “He’s a great teammate. He’s a leader not only for our basketball team but he’s a leader in the school as well. He’s somebody who goes around campus and isn’t going to embarrass the school.
“He’s just a great kid and I think he can contribute for K-State right away.”