clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Cameron Johnson led the way once again in the Heels’ home opener

The senior star paced the scoring and cleaned up the glass as the Heels blitzed the Cardinal

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to be skeptical when athletes claim that they’re “healthier than [they’ve] ever been.” As the saying goes, everybody’s healthy in the offseason. So when Cameron Johnson came back from offseason surgery on an issue that had reportedly plagued him since he’d enrolled in college saying, “At this point right now, this is the best I’ve ever felt in college and it might be the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” well, you wouldn’t have been blamed for raising an eyebrow. Johnson was already a great player whom it was known had suffered a slight dip in his shooting efficiency in his first year as a Tar Heel. We heard that this surgery would allow him more mobility on defense, undoubtedly the weakest part of his game, but it was easy to take that as offseason hype. I certainly did.

I’m sorry for doubting you, Cam.

Through three games, Johnson has looked like his best possible self on the court, better at seemingly everything than he was a year ago: as a multilevel scorer, as a passer, as a defender, as a rebounder, and even though we expected his shooting to positively regress back to the mean, he’s doing much more than that so far, hitting 10/14 from behind the arc after 3 games. His latest effort against Stanford was just one more chapter in his evolution this year, and in a balanced scoring and team defense effort to put the Cardinal away, his team-leading 17 points and team-second 7 rebounds earn him Player of the Game honors from me.

Unlike the team at large, Johnson’s scoring was evenly spaced between the first and second halves, with 9 of his points coming the first 20 and 8 coming in the back half, and this proved crucial in an intangible way. Twice in the second half, with Stanford surging (well, as much as a team can surge down 20+), Johnson hit timely three-pointers to stem the Cardinal’s momentum and calm his team down. He also scored, as alluded to earlier, at all three levels, and did so effectively: a dunk off a neat cut in the secondary break, a few midrange jumpers and a floater, and 3 of his 4 three-point attempts splashed home. All told, Johnson hit 7/11 shots in his 24 minutes of action, in addition to his 7 rebounds, all on the defensive end as he helped limit Stanford’s second-chance opportunities, and no turnovers.

Johnson has a serious case for having been UNC’s best player through three games, and on an incredibly deep, talent-laden roster, that’s no small feat. If he keeps playing like he’s started the season, there’s no reason to think UNC won’t be playing deep into March. In his last year of college basketball, he’s becoming a bona fide star.