Arizona basketball offer adds to Donovan Johnson’s month of madness

Friday, March 29, 2019 | 6:12 PM

March has brought more joy than madness for Moon’s Donovan Johnson and his family.

Johnson won a state basketball title last Friday in Hershey, watched his brother play in the NCAA Tournament two days later in Columbus, and then on Monday the 6-foot-7 junior received a scholarship offer from Arizona.

“As ‘Puff’ was heading off to school he said: Dad, can you believe the last 72 hours?” said his father Gil, using the nickname Donovan received as a baby with a big head and big hair. “Won a state championship, got all kind of personal accolades and also the offer.

“He’s living the dream.”

The Pac-12 offer was the biggest yet for Johnson and it came from one of his father’s college teammates. Arizona coach Sean Miller and Johnson’s father were teammates at Pitt from 1988-90.

“Coach Miller is a great guy, and I love Arizona,” said Donovan Johnson, who received a message Monday that Miller wanted to talk with him by phone after school. “I’ve known him pretty much my whole life and he recruited Cameron pretty hard, so I’ve known Coach Miller for awhile. I was thrilled. I was so happy. It’s honestly a blessing.”

He also holds offers from Duquesne, George Washington, USC Upstate and Xavier, but Arizona caught them a little by surprise.

“I didn’t expect it,” Gil Johnson said. “I know they came to watch him play. Sean’s father, coach (John) Miller, came to watch him play several times. He would call me and tell me what a great player he is. The assistant coaches came to see him play as well, but that was unexpected.

“They called me (Monday) and Sean said he wanted to speak with him. And he offered. It was definitely a blessing. I was surprised, pleasantly surprised.”

Johnson averaged 22.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks this season at Moon after transferring home from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. The Tigers went 28-2, finished as WPIAL runners-up and won the state Class 5A title over Archbishop Wood in Hershey.

Johnson had 17 points and eight rebounds in the state final.

Afterward, Gil Johnson said, he received a text message from another former Pitt teammate. Bobby Martin wanted to know: “Is this a real state championship or a fake one like Moon won years ago?”

Philadelphia schools weren’t part of the PIAA playoffs when Moon won the state title in 2004. Philadelphia public schools joined a year later and the Philadelphia Catholic League was added in 2009.

“I said, no, this is a real state championship,” Gil Johnson said. “We beat a Philly team — a private school Philly team at that.”

But Donovan isn’t his only son chasing a championship. Cameron Johnson is a starter at North Carolina, which drew a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Tar Heels’ first-round win was the same day as Moon’s state final, so the family (minus Cameron) was in Hershey. But the NCAA second round was Sunday, so Donovan and his family hurried to Columbus to watch.

“I’m really grateful. It’s been an amazing ride, but it’s not over yet,” said Gil Johnson, who planned to be in Kansas City, Mo., this weekend to again watch North Carolina. “It’s not over — so it hasn’t sunk in yet — until the last ball drops through NCAA and North Carolina is the national champion.

“That’s what we hope for.”

Cameron Johnson starred for OLSH and later played two seasons at Pitt before transferring to North Carolina. In terms of recruiting, Donovan is rated higher than Cameron was at this point in his high school career.

But he’s also a more well-rounded high school player.

“He is way ahead, light years ahead,” Gilbert said. “He can score at all three levels. He can post up. He can play all five positions. Cameron was more of a jump shooter, more of a point guard all through high school. ‘Puff’ can play all five, he’s a better rebounder and defender, and he’s longer.”

At 6-9, Cameron is still a couple of inches taller, but Donovan’s reach is longer.

“He’s got him by about a quarter-inch,” their father said.

At this point, Donovan said he’s in no hurry to commit. He has another year of high school remaining and can’t officially sign anywhere until November, so he’s taking his time.

“Stay humble, enjoy the ride and be grateful,” Gil Johnson said. “Because gratefulness comes before happiness.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at


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