Point guard Nigel Johnson is no stranger to making tough decisions. Throughout his college career, the Ashburn native has had to both make a decision on where to go and also when to leave.
Saturday in Charlottesville, the Rutgers transfer waited until head coach Tony Bennett was back in the room to deliver the news that he and his staff at UVa had hoped to hear:
"So where do I sign?" Johnson asked.
That's how the 6-foot-1 guard, who landed with the Scarlett Knights last season after beginning his career at Kansas State, decided to let his new head coach know where he'd be spending his final season of college ball.
Johnson averaged 4.7 points and 1.7 assists during his 62-game career at KSU, which included his freshman and sophomore seasons. The Broad Run/Riverdale Baptist product transferred to Rutgers and, after sitting out the 2015-2016 season, played in 31 games, scoring 11 points and shooting 33.8. percent shooting from 3-point territory in 26.1 minutes per game this past season.
Once he made the decision to graduate and transfer, Bennett's program was clearly on his radar.
"UVa was always at the top," Johnson told CavsCorner. "They were always at the top for me, in my top two. But I think going on the visit really made it a no-brainer for me. It was done then for sure."
The merger between Johnson and Virginia seems perfect from the outside. Johnson gets to play his final season of college hoops much closer to home and the Cavaliers get to immediately add the playmaker they desperately needed at times this past season.
The visit this past weekend, Johnson's first, allowed both him and his family to take what seemed like a great opportunity and see that reality first hand.
"I was just really eager to get there and see everything," he explained. "From talking to coach, I had a good feel but I just wanted to see it for myself. I did that and it looked like somewhere that would be good for both of us."
One thing that stood out? The way Bennett not only approached Johnson's official visit but also explaining the way he would fit at UVa.
"Coach had a tape going and it literally broke down exactly why they needed me," Johnson recalled. "It would have a play from me at Rutgers this year and right after that he'd play basically an identical thing with London (Perrantes), like a play that London had, and it was identical. He had a lot of those in there and he showed me a lot of things, strengths of mine as well as things I could work on that he can help me with."
Virginia's coaches are known in recruiting circles for being honest in their assessments. They don't promise anything. In Johnson's case, they talked to him about the possibilities of being just the type of guard they need: Someone who can create off the bounce, drive to the rim, and get buckets.
"That was definitely something that they talked a lot about," Johnson said. "They talked about how they had never really had a player with my particular skillset and that's something they had been missing. He said that he sees me bringing to the table a lot of different things that they haven't been used to.
"You know how Coach Bennett is and you know how Virginia has been in recent years with the defense," he added later. "That's something else I think I can bring. I think it's going to be hard for teams to score and one thing that Coach Bennett talked about with me was how he'd never really had someone like me who can pressure the ball. That's another thing I'm going to add to the defense. On the opposite side, another playmaker, shooter, and scorer."
Johnson said he had visits lined up for NC State and Colorado going in this weekend but those trips quickly became unnecessary.
"After we had our meeting in his office, I sat down with my family for a minute and we talked about it, just us in the room, and then that's when coach came back in there," Johnson said. "He was excited, everybody was excited. It was cool."
Every college decision is tough, especially when you've made the decision to transfer. In Johnson's case, he was looking for a place to finish his career knowing he had little time help with the transition.
"It feels great, especially knowing I'm coming home and playing for my home-state school and finishing up my career in the state I live in," he said. "So it was a great moment and hopefully that continues into being a great ending to my college career."
He added that his plan is to attend graduation at Rutgers next month while also finishing up two classes during the first part of summer. That means he'll arrive in Charlottesville for good in July.
Not surprisingly, Johnson is not shy about how good he believes the Wahoos can be next season.
"I feel like we've got all the pieces we need now," he said. "Obviously, we've got a lot shooters. Everybody on the team almost can shoot. So, yeah. It's going to be great for us.
"And I think it's going to be really good," Johnson added. "Me and a couple of the other players talked about how we feel like we can go deep in the tournament and really make a push."
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