The explosive point guard averaged 29.5 points per game as a junior and carried the Spartans to the Northwest Region playoffs in their inaugural season in Virginia’s AAA classification.
But as one of the area’s top back-court recruits, Johnson’s desire to polish his game in preparation for the rigors of Division I college basketball drove him to Upper Marlboro.
The Crusaders play an independent schedule that includes out-of-area games and tournaments. Last year they finished 35-3 and ended the season at No. 8 in The Post’s rankings.
“He wanted to play a little more stringent level, a little more difficult level to get ready for college,” Johnson’s father, Sidney Johnson said. “He also wanted to play with some high level players — a different group of kids that were kind of going in the direction that he was going in.”
After much deliberation, Johnson — who now has 16 Division I offers — informed Broad Run Coach John Costello of his decision early last week.
“It’s incredibly disappointing. A kid like Nigel comes along very seldom, and I just wish I could have coached him another year,” Costello said. “But I understand, and I respect the parents’ decision. All I can do is wish him nothing but the best, and I’ll be rooting hard for him in the years to come.”
Costello said Johnson’s departure is a massive hit to a young, relatively inexperienced roster that graduated nine seniors last spring. The Spartans will likely alter their non-district schedule — which had been designed in part to give Johnson added exposure — as a result.
Johnson, who played a Paul VI as a freshman before transferring to Broad Run, averaged 8.4 assists, 4.4 rebounds and nearly four steals per game. He eclipsed 30 points 11 times and closed the season with a flurry of offensive outbursts that included a 55-point explosion in an overtime loss to Osbourn. Johnson terrorized defenses in the Cedar Run District with his ability to get to the rim or pull up for jump shots, and his knack for scoring earned him league player of the year and second-team All-Met honors. This summer he played for DC Assault alongside North Carolina recruit and recent Oak Hill Academy transfer Nate Britt.
Johnson’s current offer list includes George Washington, American, Bucknell, Cornell, William & Mary, Bucknell, Northeastern, Brown, Princeton, Lehigh, Robert Morris, Delaware, Drexel, UNC Greensboro, Florida International and Quinnipiac.
To avoid the lengthy commute from Ashburn to Upper Marlboro, Sidney Johnson said his son will stay with his uncle in the District during the school year.
“That’ll be different for him. Like a lot of the kids out here, he hasn’t had too much to worry about as far as managing his time or transportation,” Sidney Johnson said. “This will be a growing up process for him. He’ll have to deal with some of the things that you deal with in college.”
As recently as Tuesday night, Johnson was still attending open gym sessions with Costello and his former teammates at Broad Run. But while Sidney Johnson said his son credits Costello for “really helping Nigel refine his game the last two years,” he does not expect Nigel to have any regrets.
“This was strictly his decision, and he never had any doubts,” Sidney Johnson said. “Once he made this decision, his mind was made up. He feels Riverdale is the best place for him.”