In a way, Carlos Johnson is already inextricably tied to the NBA.
The three-star high school recruit was a late addition to Washington’s 2017 class after Dejounte Murray left for the draft. In signing with the Huskies, he joined forces with ultra-prospect Markelle Fultz, and got immediate playing time (17.9 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG) alongside the future No. 1 pick.
But like Fultz, the 2017-18 basketball cycle was not ideal for Johnson. While Fultz slogged through an injury-filled, strange rookie season in Philadelphia, Johnson fell out of favor with first-year Washington coach Mike Hopkins, playing only 13 minutes total over the Huskies final 17 games.
The junior wing transferred after the season, trying to revive his college career under another NBA stalwart — Dan Majerle — at Grand Canyon. That redemption tour got a bump on Tuesday, as the school announced that an NCAA waiver will allow Johnson to play immediately, and avoid a redshirt year.
This was huge news for a Lopes team that landed as the WAC runner-up in both the coaches’ and media preseason polls. Following a CBI first round loss to Mercer, Majerle rather candidly talked about his need to upgrade GCU’s talent and “find some horses.”
“We’re looking for players,” Majerle said. “I was thinking about it the other day. When I was playing for the Suns, we used to get beat by the Lakers, we’d get beat by Portland. Cotton (Fitzsimmons) always said, ‘I don’t have the horses.’ Well, I’ve got to go out and find some horses. So when we go to New Mexico State, I’ve got to have some horses.
Johnson looks like one of those horses, and will join highly-regarded JuCo prospect J.J. Rhymes as the Lopes try to rebuild the scoring punch in their backcourt — something that held them back a year ago. The former Phoenix Shadow Mountain High School teammates step into the shoes of Josh Braun and Casey Benson who, despite respective underwhelming seasons, combined to average 58.6 minutes, 21.1 points and 5.9 assists per game.
Neither likely answer the Lopes point guard question, which will be the key issue heading into next season. But for his part, Johnson’s high-level athleticism, rim attacking and on-ball defending should be a big addition. The three-point shot is his biggest area of improvement (career 23.7% 3FG), and will be especially worth watching as he plays off an elite big man in sophomore Alessandro Lever.
Nonetheless, GCU has suddenly added a high-ceiling, willing perimeter scorer to a team that lacked any obvious answer in that area. With New Mexico State seeming as vulnerable as it has been in the WAC’s current configuration, Majerle must hope Johnson’s sudden availability gives him one of the horses that can run down GCU’s first NCAA Tournament appearance.