MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Kedrian Johnson comes to the Mountaineer men’s basketball team with seemingly the perfect mentality to fit into Bob Huggins’ system.
The 6-foot-3, 180-pound transfer from Temple (Texas) College certainly can score, as he was fifth in the national junior college ranks as a freshman (25.6 points per game) and fourth as a sophomore (25.5 ppg). But it is on the other end of the court where he really caught the eyes of major college coaches – including Huggins – as he led all JCs in steals in 2018-19 (3.7 per game) and was sixth in that category last season (3.4 per game).
“In junior college, you don’t find many guys who average 25 points both their freshman and sophomore year,” noted Johnson, “but the thing I think that really separated me was leading the nation in steals, so colleges thought I could play both sides of the ball.”
His combination of skills earned him the No. 3 ranking among all 2020 junior college prospects, according to jucorecruiting.com.
Johnson is a bounce-back recruit. A native of Dallas, Texas, where he graduated from South Oak High School, he initially attended St. Peter’s (N.J.) College, which is a mid-major Division I school in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). After redshirting his freshman year with the Peacocks, Johnson decided to return to Texas and enroll in a junior college.
“Out of high school, my recruitment was very slow,” noted Johnson. “I only had two Division I scholarship offers – one was from St. Peter’s and the other was from Texas State. I chose St. Peter’s because I had been home for 18 years, so I wanted to get out and see some other things.
“Then when I was in junior college, my recruitment my first year was kind of slow, but then that next summer my recruitment started to pick up a lot,” he added. “I chose West Virginia because on my visit I saw how family oriented the place was. I felt like this was the kind of place I wanted to be around. I felt like they really wanted me here rather than just telling me what I wanted to hear.”
Now that he is at West Virginia, Johnson is starting to adapt, though he admits it can be tough at times.
“When I first got here, I was running around and not always in position,” said Johnson, who is a multidisciplinary studies major. “In junior college, I led the nation in steals because I was always in the passing lanes. But now, our defensive principles are different, and that’s something I have to adjust to. In a lot of ways, though, it’s actually easier than what I was doing before.”
His coach likes what he sees, but says the junior guard is far from a finished product.
“It’s a process, but he’s getting better and better,” said Huggins of Johnson. “He’s talented. He’s a very talented guy. He’s far and away the fastest guy on our team. He can really get to the ball. It’s just that he’s thinking too much right now and not really reacting. He’s a talented guy and will eventually be a really good player.”
Making the leap from junior college to major college is not easy. Last year WVU brought in a pair of prospects from the juco ranks who had also been high scorers at their previous stops. Sean McNeil had led the NJCAA Division II in scoring in 2018-19, averaging 29.7 points per game at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, while Taz Sherman was the fourth-leading scorer in Division I in the NJCAA, averaging 25.9 points a game for Collin (Texas) College.
Each showed signs of their skills with the Mountaineers last year – McNeil averaging 5.5 points per game and Sherman averaging 5.3 – but admittedly it wasn’t a seamless transition.
“It’s more intense, but the biggest change is more about strength and speed than anything else,” explained Johnson of the difference as he moves up to major college basketball.
“Me and Sean are very similar,” added Kedrian. “As I’m sure you know, Sean took off a year before going back to junior college, and I felt that was basically the same for me since I redshirted my first year (at St. Peter’s).
“Taz and I were in the same junior college conference, and once we got here, it was like an automatic bond because of that,” said Johnson.
Indeed Collin and Temple had a pair of wars when Sherman and Johnson were matched up on the court in the 2018-19 season. Despite 35 points from Taz, Johnson led Temple to a 99-91 victory in the first meeting by contributing 25 points and five steals. The tables were turned in the second showdown later in the season, as Sherman’s 30 points and 10 rebounds helped guide Collin to an 83-74 win, even though Kedrian had 34 points and seven steals.
“Those games were very exciting,” Johnson remembered of his battles with Sherman. “There were a ton of coaches there to watch Taz my freshman year, so I realized that was also an opportunity to show coaches what I could do.
“Taz was a great player. Those moments are something I cherish, and now that we’re teammates, it’s something we can look back on and talk about and laugh about. That was a great experience playing against Taz, and now it’s great playing with him.”
Johnson is capable of playing either guard position, He has proven his ability to score, but he also dished out 5.4 assists while in junior college.
“Right now I’m more of a ball handler,” said Johnson of his role with the Mountaineers, “but they also want me to look to score because of the numbers I put up in junior college. I’ve been taking my time getting comfortable before I go back to my junior college ways.
“It takes a little while to get comfortable. I know it took Taz a little while to fit in and figure everything out. The coaches tell me just to be myself, just play my game and everything will fall in line.”
In the past, Johnson usually had to carry most of the scoring load, but right now he can just be a piece of the Mountaineer puzzle.
“This is one of the most talented teams I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Going up against these guys in practice is great. I’ve never been on a team where I wasn’t the best player or the most athletic, so it’s an adjustment for me. Playing every day in practice against guys like Deuce (McBride) is really helpful. Going up against him and Jordan (McCabe) teaches me so much.”