Not too long after the National Championship in April, Tar Heel fans already started to look ahead towards next season. Yes, even after your team takes home all the marbles people still tend to fantasize about the future. The good news for North Carolina is the future remains bright.
Justin Jackson presents the most obvious hole to fill, averaging 18.3 ppg on last year’s squad. While there’s probably not one particular player who can replace his production, Cameron Johnson, a graduate transfer from Pitt, will do his best JJacks impression in the upcoming season.
As most people already know, Johnson had a tough time getting his full release from Pittsburgh. Initially, they told him he couldn’t transfer to any ACC schools or other schools on their 2017-2018 schedule. After he expressed some interest in UNC, they tried to compromise and allow him to transfer to an ACC school, but require him to sit out a year.
Johnson decided to commit to the Tar Heels, anyways. However, after weeks of negative PR, Pitt finally relented and granted Johnson his full release, providing Roy Williams with a huge boost to next year’s team.
Johnson is a six-foot-eight, 210-pound redshirt junior. He was able to graduate from Pitt in three years (one of those being the redshirt year), so he will have two seasons in Chapel Hill if he so chooses.
Last year in the Dean Dome, Johnson lit it up, going for 24 points on nine-of-thirteen shooting. He managed to knock down six of his nine three-point attempts. Granted, this was a career game for Johnson, but it does bode well for his comfortability in the Dean Dome and it gave Tar Heels fans a sneak preview of what they will be getting.
Johnson’s size, length, and athleticism allows for plenty of versatility, which is crucial for a team that must learn to win without a myriad of dominant big men. His ability to guard multiple positions will come in handy, as he will likely spend some time at the four spot. Between him and the multifaceted Theo Pinson, Roy Williams will be able to throw out some wacky lineups.
Johnson’s ability to stroke it from deep yields another especially huge asset for this team. He shot 42% from beyond the arc last season, which would’ve ranked first for the Heels. It was often overlooked last season because of how effective this duo was, but outside of Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson, UNC had virtually no three-point production.
To give you some perspective, these two accounted for around 65% of the team’s attempts from outside. Johnson will step in and prevent a significant drop off from Jackson’s departure while the younger guys continue to develop.
Perhaps more important than his talent, Johnson fell in love with the school the minute he set foot on campus. He instantly took a liking to Roy and his staff and he hit it off with the players.
The behind the scenes and off-court activity is very underrated in college basketball, and in sports in general. It’s also an area of expertise for Roy Williams, who doesn’t get enough credit for how close he brings his staff and players together. He continued to show his affection for his players when he fought for Johnson to receive his full release and play at the school of his choosing.
Cameron Johnson is, by all accounts, an excellent fit at UNC. I expect him to play a vital role for next year’s Tar Heels as they try for a third consecutive final four.