When ESPN came out with its class of 2012 rankings early last week, there weren’t too many unknowns. One name, however, seemed to surprise several people: Demarquise Johnson.
“People were shocked when he was ranked by ESPN, even I was really surprised by that,” said Clint Parks, Johnson’s AAU coach with Team Eleate. “I mean, some of my friends in coaching texted me when the rankings came out; people were like, oh wow. We told them Que could play, but people would brush us off. A ranking doesn’t make you a player, but . . .”
Johnson, a 6-foot-5 ½, 175 lb. shooting guard from Westwind Prep (Ariz.), does not have much national publicity, but he is starting to garner attention after playing well at the NIKE Hoop Jamboree, Jayhawk Invitational and the Kansas Elite Camp this spring.
Known as “Que” by his teammates and coaches, Johnson transferred into Westwind from Avondale (Mich.) prior to last season. Now, he has separated himself as the top prospect in the state.
“He’s possibly [underrated] on a national level,” Parks said. “He’s in Arizona on an under-the-radar AAU team. I mean, we had the best freshman on the West Coast last year, Kawhi Leonard at San Diego State, but we’re not a shoe-sponsored team. If he was on Double Pump or Oakland Soldiers, he would be a household name.”
As he becomes more of a big-time prospect known across the country, his recruitment will surely heat up. For now, he has offers from San Diego State and Arizona State, with interest from Arizona, Oregon State, UCLA, Kansas, Saint Mary’s, Pepperdine and Georgetown.
Since June 15, when coaches were officially allowed to contact rising juniors, Johnson has heard from Arizona State, Saint Mary’s, Pepperdine, Oregon State, Arizona and Georgetown.
“He’s wide-open, but I’d say Arizona State’s out in front,” Parks said. “They really came out and saw him. Arizona State took our word, and was the first to do it. Now everyone is a believer.”
Johnson attended the Arizona State Team Camp with his high school team and dominated, scoring 37 points and 38 points in separate outings.
“That’s what really sent them over the top,” said Parks, who added that San Diego State and Pepperdine are also coming at him hard. “He’s their No. 1 priority in 2012.”
Despite the Sun Devils being Johnson’s favorite, he’s nowhere near ready to make a decision, and plans on waiting for at least a year before choosing a college.
“He’s going to take his time,” Parks said. “There’s no reason to rush anything, so you’re second-guessing yourself. I told him, when you commit, that’s your word.”
Considering his recruitment is just starting to pick up, it makes sense for Johnson to wait it out and see what schools get into the mix after this summer.
“He’s for sure going to have his pick of schools,” Parks said, before naming some of Johnson’s criteria in a future destination. “Playing time is going to be very, very important. How the coach develops players, too, since he has aspirations to play at the highest level. Playing style, environment, how he gets along with the coach, those will all be factors.
“Location won’t be a huge factor, I don’t think, since his mother lives in Arizona and his father lives in Michigan.”
Whichever school gets Johnson will pick up a fantastic shooter who is developing a more well-rounded game. He has come from being a player who floated mostly along the perimeter to a guy who can hurt defenses in multiple ways.
What makes his rise to a top-50 player even more surprising is that Parks said Johnson isn’t cut out to be a standout in a camp setting.
“I mean, camp isn’t the best place to showcase his skills,” Parks said. “He’s not a shot-hunter, he’s more of a set-offense type of player. He’s a young Ray Allen, a young Rip Hamilton. He can shoot out to 23-24 feet, and he’s still developing. He needs to develop his handle a bit; it’s not that tight yet. But he’s come a long, long way. I think the mental aspect of learning [has improved the most]; he’s starting to see things on the court. He used to be a [former Florida guard] Lee Humphrey, a catch-and-shoot guy. Now he can get to the rim on two or three dribbles, and he can dunk on you. He’s pretty athletic.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids, and his upside is tremendous. He’s far from his peak, and he sees where he can go.”
Another reason many were surprised about Johnson’s lofty ranking was that he has not had many opportunities to compare himself to some of the top players in the country. However, Parks did say that he watched Johnson go against 2011 stud Branden Dawson and 2012 standout Kyle Anderson and play them to a standstill.
“He hasn’t had a chance to showcase his skills against Shabazz Muhammad and them, but he can hold his own with the best of the best,” Parks said.
For the rest of the summer, Johnson and Team Eleate are playing in tournaments in Tulsa, Minnesota, Las Vegas and the Best of the Summer event in Los Angeles. Individually, Johnson received no invites to the LeBron James camp or any of the Skills Academies, but Parks said he anticipates Johnson making a big enough leap next year to receive invites.
Despite the new top-50 ranking and invites to prestigious Elite Camps, Johnson is still vastly underrated on a national level. As a result, he is playing with a chip on his shoulder, eager to show that he can compete with anyone in the country.
“At the Kansas Camp, guys like Nino Jackson and Perry Ellis – they’re really good players – but Que felt the coaches were just shoving him off, not putting him in the group of guys they’re really interested in,” Parks said. “So he wants to play hard and go out and prove to people. He’s going to be a warrior, and leave it all out on the floor.
“He wants that respect.”