In my continuing efforts to expand on and improve the recruiting section this spring I decided to take a look at each of the seven current commitment we have on board for the next two seasons. Unless we get Trency Jackson or someone unexpected, our next commit won't be until the 2014 class. Next season we get to add essentially five new players to the roster with the four incoming freshmen, plus Donnie Hale. Someone is going to make an impact.
That player might be Ronnie Johnson. The 5'10", 160 pound point guard from Indianapolis is, of course, Terone Johnson's little brother, meaning the totally confusing lineup of AJ (Anthony Johnson), RJ, TJ, DJ (D.J. Byrd), and AJ (Hammons) is entirely possible next year, and could get Larry Clisby to quit in frustration.
I have had the pleasure of seeing Ronnie twice this season in person. The first was two days before Christmas when his North Central team got smoked by Park Tudor 81-63 at home. Here is what I had to say about him at the time:
He had 17 points, one assist, and two rebounds, but what impressed me most was his hustle. He was the only player on North Central's roster that realized you beat a 2-3 zone by attacking it, not shooting over it. He was on the floor a few times going after loose balls and dove in for a few rebounds. Since his teammates refused to attack the basket against the zone it limited him to the one assist.
RJ is a lefty, and his left handed shot is not the prettiest, but it can be effective. He was shooting a lot of deep three-pointers and finished 4 of 13 from long range and 6 of 20 overall, so it wasn't the best night shooting. Again though, his teammates had no idea how to attack the zone. Breaking a 2-3 zone is a team effort, especially in a motion offense. Any time RJ drove the defense collapsed on him and prevented him from passing or scoring. Still, I could see a lot of Purdue in him because he was a defensive hustler and not afraid to go after loose balls.
Defensively, I liked RJ because he was the only player that had a prayer of hanging with Ferrell. Ferrell abused Ingram most of the night. RJ took him for most of the second half and only gave up four points and an assist. Ferrell smoked him once on the dribble, but missed the layup. Ferrell's only field goal of the second half came on a fast break. Ferrell played the entire second half until PT cleared its bench with 1:30 left, so RJ kept him fairly quiet. I would rate his defense against Ferrell at about a B. When Ferrell went crazy in the second quarter it wasn't because of RJ. For the most part he held his own. What makes a true evaluation hard of how they went at each other was the zone. Park Tudor didn't come out of its 2-3 much, and it limited Ferrell's defensive opportunities on RJ.
The other game I saw in person was North Central's 71-68 win over Kokomo in this year's Hall of Fame classic. This was an interesting game because Kokomo was the better team when they played zone, but they mixed things up late and North Central earned a come from behind win. Ronnie was able to repeatedly get the ball inside to big man Darius Latham, who used his size to punish my Kats. Here is the Tribune wrap from that game:
Johnson, a Purdue commit, took advantage of Kokomo’s shaky start to the fourth which included an 0-for-4 clip from the field and two turnovers in the first 2:22. He scored a pair of layups in transition, and found Darius Latham for a post deuce to finish off a 10-0 run and give the Panthers a 64-58 lead with 5:17 to play.
Ronnie finished with 16 that day, but he impressed me with how he could affect the game without scoring.
Ronnie brings to Purdue a championship pedigree. When his brother had 26 points in North Central's 95-74 state championship victory in 2010 RJ was 6 of 14 and led the team in three-pointers with three for 17 points. He also handed out five assists to TJ's eight. Ronnie has cut his teeth playing against the top teams in the state of Indianapolis every year throughout his high school career. He's played against Gary Harris, Jeremy Hollowell, D.J. Balentine, Collin Hartman, Yogi Ferrell, R.J. Hunter, Kellen Dunham, and virtually every other great player in this state over the past three years. He is not going to be intimidated by the Big Ten, and he's played one of the toughest positions on the court in big game after big game.
One thing that can't be underestimated is that he is the younger brother of a player that projects to be one of our biggest contributors next year. Their bond goes beyond high school and AAU ball. These two have been playing with and against each other since both could play the game of basketball. They know each other extremely well and already have that bond on the floor where they fully know each other's strengths and weaknesses. That familiarity can lead to a bit of a sixth sense on the floor. Think about it, who is going to know better when and where to get the ball to TJ, LewJack, or the kid who has played in the driveway with him since he was 5?
From my observations Ronnie is a better shooter than Lewis Jackson, and his size allows him to possibly get more calls that Lew ever did when he drives the lane. Ronnie is a legitimate threat from beyond the three point line, but he can also drive. He's limited against zones (Park Tudor ran primarily a 2-3 and Kokomo limited him when they played zone), but he can beat his man off the dribble against man. Best of all, you know that form his brother he'll bring that typical Purdue toughness and desire we love.
Defensively, Ronnie needs some work. He was the only one on the floor against Park Tudor that even had a chance of going step-for-step against Yogi Ferrell, but he still got burned a few times. Part of that is because Ferrell is an elite PG, but another part comes from Ronnie needing to learn foot speed and Purdue defensive positioning. At 5'10" 160 he has more size than Lew and will be an upgrade over the freshman Lewis Jackson, but getting the chops in the Big Ten will take some time. he shoots free throws better than Lew did as a freshman, and his size won't be as much of a defensive liability.
I think what I like the most about Ronnie is that he is a winner. His teams at North Central the last three years went 66-12. He won a state championship in 2010 and got knocked out in the semi-state by the eventual state champion in 2011. North Central plays one of the manliest schedules in the state every year, too. Pike, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, Hamilton Southeastern, Muncie Central, Kokomo, Danville (when they were undefeated with Travis Carroll), Ben Davis, East Chicago Central, Ft. Wayne Luers, Bowman Academy, Carmel, and Pendleton Heights are among the excellent teams that have been on North Central's regular season schedule. North Central is regularly one of the best programs in Indiana and has produced a ton of talent (Eric Gordon ring a bell?). We're getting a kid that has been prepared as well as you can be for player from an Indiana public high school. He will be ready.