Contributors, Justin Jackson, Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Kobe Johnson looks every bit the part of another WVU hoops recruiting steal

MORGANTOWN — It begins as a story of a young man with a chip on his shoulder, playing with something to prove.

In seasons gone by, that is where both Jevon Carter and Deuce McBride began their WVU basketball careers, as under-recruited guards who barely got any looks at any major Division I schools until Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers came along.

“It’s basically we get guys that have to work like crazy to be able to play in this league,” Huggins said Wednesday from Big 12 media day in Kansas City. “We’ll continue to do that.”

Freshman point guard Kobe Johnson — right now — shares only that chip-on-the-shoulder part of the story with Carter and McBride.

Despite being named Ohio’s Division I Player of the Year coming out of Canton McKinley, WVU did not have to fight off the likes of Cincinnati and Ohio State for Johnson’s services.

Rather, Huggins and his coaches had to out-recruit Akron, Bowling Green and Duquesne.

Carter and McBride are the Mountaineers’ two latest additions to the NBA, getting there by busting their tails in the gym and going well beyond their projections coming out of high school.

It’s way too early to say that Johnson, too, is one day destined for the NBA, but there’s just something about this kid.

It’s here we flash back to some empty gyms in Spain in the summer of 2019, where the Mountaineers were on a foreign tour of the country and the team played in three exhibition games.

McBride was a freshman then, known only by his WVU teammates and coaches at that point.

The competition WVU played in Spain was lousy, but, where it concerned McBride, you could see past that and look at his game and really begin to see that the Mountaineers had just pulled off a major recruiting steal.

There was just something about McBride’s game and confidence level that made you think he wasn’t your average freshman.

Getting back to Johnson, we move forward to last week’s Gold-Blue Debut, where Johnson’s first impressions were all good.

At first glance, his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame doesn’t make you think that Johnson is your run-of-the-mill teenaged freshman.

Then you watch Johnson play and you almost forget he hasn’t played a real college basketball game yet.

He scored 16 points in just 15 minutes of action in the team scrimmage. Johnson shot 4 of 5 from 3-point range. He was 6 of 7 from the floor.

He didn’t turn the ball over and added two assists.

Those stats are all fine, but Johnson’s style of play is what stands out.

The moment wasn’t too big for him. You almost begin to wonder if any moment would be. He seemingly was always in the right spot and made a lot of right decisions when he had the ball.

This wasn’t a freshman with the wheels turning in his head worrying about what am I supposed to do now? Johnson was simply reacting and playing.

“Kobe’s ball security might be the best out of all of them,” Huggins said. “He’s a freshman, but when you play at Canton McKinley, you play against pretty good competition. He’s probably a little more prepared for what was coming than the other freshmen.”

Now, this isn’t to say Johnson isn’t going to have his growing pains. We’re not projecting him to be an All-American and a 2022 lottery pick.

We’re not even calling for Johnson to be the starting point guard, although it won’t be a complete surprise if Huggins doesn’t take a look at that option before the 2021-22 season comes to an end.

This is simply to say there was a certain feeling watching McBride play for the first time back in the summer of 2019 and a lot of those same feelings were there again in watching Johnson.

This freshman still has a long way to go to get where McBride and Carter are now, but he’s certainly at the beginning of their similar storylines.

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