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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    In-state Johnson to give Wildcats local flavor

    Arizona basketball signee Zane Johnson, a Thunderbird High School senior, drives in Thunderbirds 74-43 win over Sinagua Dec. 19 at his Phoenix high school. Along with fellow signee Jerryd Bayless, who played on Johnsons club team, the Wildcats have two players in their incoming recruiting class from the Phoenix area.
    Arizona basketball signee Zane Johnson, a Thunderbird High School senior, drives in Thunderbird’s 74-43 win over Sinagua Dec. 19 at his Phoenix high school. Along with fellow signee Jerryd Bayless, who played on Johnson’s club team, the Wildcats have two players in their incoming recruiting class from the Phoenix area.

    PHOENIX – Facing the street adjacent to Phoenix Thunderbird High School, a marquee in flashing red letters proclaimed, “”Congrats U of A Bound and Future Wildcat Zane Johnson.””

    “”It’s not often that you sign kids to a D-I program,”” said Steve Bebee, Thunderbird’s athletic director, who put Johnson’s accomplishment on the marquee the day he signed in November. “”To have a kid sign … to go to a basketball program like U of A is a pretty special signing.””

    Said Johnson in December, “”(The sign) reminds me of what I’ve accomplished.””

    Johnson, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard, joins Phoenix St. Mary’s guard Jerryd Bayless in Arizona’s 2006-07 recruiting class. They will be the first in-state players on the UA roster since Phoenix native Channing Frye played his senior season in 2004-05.

    Although the Wildcats’ roster is littered with players from around the nation and the world, that says more about the lack of top prospects in Arizona in recent years than anything else.

    “”It’s important to recruit in-state, but make sure you’re recruiting in-state for kids good enough,”” said UA assistant coach Josh Pastner. “”Jerryd Bayless and Zane Johnson are good enough to help us win. They’re great kids, great basketball players. It’s a no-brainer decision on our part. We would rather have the opportunity to recruit in-state as long as they meet the standard in (UA head) coach (Lute) Olson’s eye on and off the floor.””

    They also provide local fans players they can call their own.

    “”For the public support, the Arizona public support, I think it’s huge,”” Bebee said.

    Neither player’s high school team managed to win a state championship like former in-state Wildcats Mike Bibby, Richard Jefferson and Frye did. Johnson’s Thunderbird team lost to Tucson Ironwood Ridge in the 4A-I quarterfinals, while Bayless and St. Mary’s fell to three-time state champion Mesa Mountain View in the 5A-I championship game.

    Johnson, a three-star prospect ranked No. 132 nationally by the recruiting Web site Rivals.com, is expected to bring one major asset to the Wildcats: shooting. He averaged 23.6 points and 7.8 rebounds and shot 44 percent from 3-point range as a senior on his way to 4A first-team all-state and all-region honors.

    Notable Wildcats from Phoenix
    Mike Bibby (1996-98) 15. 4 ppg 5.5 apg
    Richard Jefferson (1998-2001) 11.2 ppg 5.0 rpg
    Channing Frye (2001-05) 13.5 ppg 7.3 rpg

    Pastner said he expects Johnson to be a “”very good player”” for Arizona because he has a high basketball IQ and, most importantly, can stretch the defense.

    “”When the clock runs down, somebody’s got to put it in the hole,”” said Buddy Rake, Thunderbird’s head coach. “”He can shoot it from anywhere on the court.””

    Johnson is different from many of the shooting guards Arizona has recruited in the past, as he’s taller and more of a pure shooter than many of the athletes the Wildcats have thrown out at the position, like former 6-foot-4 guards Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers.

    Johnson said besides his shooting touch, he will bring intensity and aid team chemistry. He said he’s “”real good friends”” with Bayless, as the duo played club basketball for the Arizona Magic and hang out on the weekends.

    As if he hadn’t seen it enough in club ball, Johnson got a taste of Bayless’ potential Nov. 28 when with 2.4 seconds left on the clock and with St. Mary’s trailing by one, Bayless bobbled the ball, shot it off the glass and made a game-winner to stun Johnson and Thunderbird 54-53.

    Although Arizona was always first on Johnson’s list, the feeling wasn’t always mutual. Rake said Johnson was USC’s No. 1 recruit and that Gonzaga, UNLV, Tennessee and ASU, among others, also showed more interest than the Wildcats early on.

    According to Rake, the UA staff watched Johnson hit nine 3s in a row in a club game playing alongside Bayless, which got the ball rolling. After the Wildcat coaches had been following him “”for awhile,”” Pastner said, things became official at Arizona’s Elite Camp July 1.

    “”He came to Elite Camp and had a great camp, really shot the heck out of the ball, and based on that and our close watch, we were able to offer him a scholarship on the spot,”” Pastner said.

    And, as Rake said: “”When Lute Olson recruits an in-state kid, I think that kid’s going to go to U of A.””

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