No matter which tournament he attended or the court he played on, 2018 big man Bryan Penn-Johnson was hard to miss during the spring evaluation period.
The 6-foot-11 center with a 7-foot-plus wing-span stood out everywhere he went and is now emerging as one of the most intriguing prospects in his class.
“When you’re 5-foot-11 you have to prove you can play. When you’re 6-foot-11, you have to prove you can’t play,” said Clayton Williams, founder and head coach of Penn-Johnson’s AAU club DreamVision. “For him, it was meant to be. He can play.
"He has the measurables, he’s an athlete and he’s talented enough that if he puts it together he’s going to decide what his fate is.”
Williams knows talent when he sees it, having coached several coveted prospects in recent years such as Shabazz Muhammad, Stephen Zimmerman, Chase Jeter, Robert Upshaw, Zach Collins and more.
He believes Penn-Johnson, after just three years of playing competitive basketball, has a chance to be equally as talented as the group mentioned above due to the upside he has shown so far.
Schools are starting to catch on, and that’s where San Diego State comes in. The coaching staff recently offered BPJ and Williams said that they are already set on visiting the school soon.
Last week, SDSU filled a major need at center with the addition of Cal transfer Kameron Rooks, but the big man’s addition to the roster is just a one year fix.
The Aztecs will lose Rooks and starting senior forward Malik Pope after next season, making the 2018 signing period a potentially pivotal recruiting moment for head coach Brian Dutcher.
The current roster has a bevy of guards ready to help get Dutcher's era off to a strong start but the need for tough, versatile and athletic post players will have to step in immediately for 2018 and on.
“San Diego State is in a good spot with Bryan,” said Williams. “They traditionally do very well defensively and he would be a great fit. He could thrive in the Mountain West and be a dominant big man that can control the middle, block shocks and run the floor and finish in their system.
“They’ve seen him and know he’s long and athletic. That’s their evaluation. San Diego State and everyone else loves his versatility and length. And as he gets bigger and stronger and his skill level improves, I think he can be player who shakes the NBA Commissioner's hand one day.”
Williams’ confidence in Penn-Johnson’s potential is in part due to his upbringing. He feels the mental fortitude developed over the years will take him a long way, just like his athleticism should.
“Coaches haven’t really seen him perform up until this spring but now he’s out there and they’re asking ‘where did this kid come from?’” said Williams. “Well, he’s only played one year of high school basketball. He was born in New York, moved to Long Beach and now he’s in Las Vegas. He lost his father at an early age and lived from homeless shelter to homeless shelter for almost a quarter of his life.
“So, he has a story. And he’s very humble because of what he’s been through. He understands the importance of hard work and he really does appreciate the attention he’s now getting and doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s going to be successful at the next level because all he cares about is fit. He doesn’t care about how big or small the school is as long as he’s comfortable with the coaches, how he fits in, and that he can be apart of what they’re doing from day one.”
In SDSU’s case, the opportunity on day one of 2018 is completely up for grabs.