With one letter of intent officially in hand, Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles was happy Thursday to discuss Nebraska’s guard of the future.
“He’ll play right away,” Miles said of Virginia guard Xavier Johnson. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
Johnson, along with Platteview’s Brady Heiman, both signed their letters Wednesday during the first day of the early signing period. Heiman’s letter was still on its way to the Nebraska basketball offices Thursday, meaning the coach couldn’t yet comment on the Huskers’ first in-state scholarship signee in 16 years.
But he was plenty excited about Johnson, a three-star prospect from longtime prep powerhouse Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia.
“He’s as fast a guard as there is in the country, and it was a good point guard year. I think that he would have been higher ranked if it hadn’t been such a deep year throughout college basketball,” Miles said. “But that’s fine by me.”
Johnson played for the Team Takeover AAU squad in the summer. That group went to the championship of the Peach Jam, and won The 8, an invitation-only event in Las Vegas.
“That’s not your normal high school, AAU-level basketball,” Miles said. “He’s going against guys that will be in college one year and in the NBA the next. So that’s a pretty good performance.”
Johnson is strong in the pick-and-roll game, Miles said, and “lives at the front of the rim.” While not a strong outside shooter, Johnson makes up for it by attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line.
He also gives the Huskers a true point guard capable of pushing tempo and delivering the ball to scorers in tight spaces while playing high-level defense at the other end, Miles said.
Assistant coach Kenya Hunter was Johnson’s lead recruiter.
“He peppers the target,” Miles said of Johnson. “Like, if he was shooting a BB gun at the target, he’d be on the bull’s-eye, which is the rim, all day. And so he ends up at the free-throw line all day. And I love those guys.”
The Husker still have two open scholarships for the 2018 class, and Miles said NU would look for more athleticism in the paint while seeking another shooter.
At the same time, Miles said, the Huskers will be patient with the open spots as the ongoing FBI scandal plays itself out and the potential for Division I transfers remains high.
“That’s one train of thought that’s been brought up to me,” Miles said. “I just know that, I know what’s out there right now, and I know we need to wait.”
* Guards Glynn Watson, Evan Taylor and Anton Gill, along with forward Isaiah Roby, are all expected to be available to play in Saturday’s season opener against Eastern Illinois after missing all or part of Tuesday’s exhibition against Northwood with various ailments.
Watson, Gill and Roby all sat out the exhibition. Watson aggravated a bursa sac in his knee while Roby reaggravated a finger injury suffered a few weeks ago. Gill, already playing on a surgically reconstructed knee, suffered a slight groin injury in practice.
“Glynn and Isaiah have injuries that will go away in time. Now, we’re going to have to manage Anton. There’s no doubt about it — the injury’s just too severe,” Miles said. “It’s not one of those things you just expect to disappear. So we could have him for a while and if he takes a step backwards in terms of soreness or whatever, he may have to rest.”
Taylor missed the last nine minutes of the Northwood exhibition after blowing out a shoe and slightly spraining his right ankle.
“It’s fine,” Taylor said of his ankle. “RIP to the shoe.”
* Miles said Thursday that freshmen Nana Akenten and Thorir Thorbjarnarson will not redshirt this season. The coach had conversations with both players, and each indicated they would prefer to play this season.
That’s doesn’t, however, mean the door is closed on a redshirt season for either player.
“I’ve had it work all kinds of ways. I’ve had kids tell me they want to redshirt, and then four games into it they haven’t played and they’re like, ‘I want to play.’ So we play them,” Miles said. “I’ve had kids who started out, didn’t want to redshirt, didn’t play for four games, then said, ‘How about if I redshirt?’
“So it’s a decision we don’t have to make immediately, but at this point, everybody’s available to play.”