By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas has landed Little Rock Trojans junior-transfer Kamani Johnson, who committed to Razorbacks head coach Eric Musselman on Tuesday via Twitter.
Johnson (6-7, 215, forward, Brooklyn native) chose the Hogs over St. John’s, DePaul, Miami, and others to become the ninth college transfer to join Arkansas under Musselman since he took over the program 18 months ago.
Johnson had a Zoom virtual meeting with Arkansas coaches on Monday before doing the same with St. John’s coaches later the same day, according to a source.
“I will be continuing my academic and basketball journey at the University of Arkansas,” Johnson said in his commitment announcement that he released via Twitter on Tuesday (image of tweet is embedded below).
Arkansas fills a scholarship for the upcoming 2020-21 season that was vacated when guard Isaiah Joe re-entered the 2020 NBA Draft in August. Barring an NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility, Johnson would redshirt at Arkansas in ’20-21 with his playing eligibility as a junior beginning in the spring semester of the ’21-22 campaign.
However, the NCAA is meeting this week to consider a proposal for a one-time waiver for immediate eligibility for all college transfers, which if eventually approved would begin in ’21-22. If approved, Johnson would then be eligible to play for the Hogs at the beginning of the ’21-22 season.
Johnson entered the portal on Thursday, and during a Saturday morning interview with Hogville.net Johnson confirmed that he’d been talking to the Razorbacks.
“Over 20 schools have reached out, Arkansas is one of them.” Johnson said. “The interest (in the Hogs) is pretty high right now … been talking to the whole staff but mainly him (Musselman) and coach DP (Hogs associate head coach David Patrick).”
Johnson was named 3rd team All Sun Belt Conference as a sophomore in ’19-20 after starting 25 of 31 games and averaging 11.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists while shooting 51.3% from the field (98-of-191 field goals) and 72.7% from the free throw line (144-of-198 free throws) in 27.7 minutes per game on a team that finished 21-10 overall, including 15-5 to win the Sun Belt and automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament that was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an unprecedented preseason exhibition game between Little Rock and Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on Oct. 20, 2019 — the day the Razorbacks unveiled Nolan Richardson Court to honor the Naismith Hall of Famer — Johnson was impressive while recording a double-double: 13 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal in 24 minutes in a 79-64 defeat.
As a freshman in ’18-19, Johnson also faced a Musselman-coached team — No. 6 Nevada in Reno on November 2018 — as the Trojans’ rookie recorded 7 points and 6 rebounds in 15 minutes in an 87-59 road loss.
With Johnson’s commitment to the Razorbacks, he becomes the fourth transfer to do so since the end of last season who Musselman had previously either coached against or scouted for an upcoming game.
Musselman most recently had a three-player graduate-transfer haul in the 2020 class consisting of Vance Jackson, Jr. (while at New Mexico he played against Musselman’s Nevada squad in ’18-19), Justin Smith (while at Indiana he played against Musselman’s first Arkansas squad in ’19-20), and Jalen Tate (while at Northern Kentucky he missed the Arkansas-NKU game last season with an injury, but Musselman had scouted and game-planned for Tate in practice leading up to that contest).
As for Johnson, he recalls the in-state battle that had Arkansans atypically interested and excited about an exhibition game.
“It was a tough one for us but I definitely took away the atmosphere was crazy in there (BWA),” Johnson said. “You can tell how passionate the fans are.”
Johnson’s success against in-state D1 teams last season extended to Jonesboro as he registered a career-high game with 32 points (9-of-12 field goals and 14-of-19 free throws) and 16 rebounds in an 81-78 win at Arkansas State on Feb. 22. He also had a 30-point, 13-rebound, 5-assist outing in a 92-89 home win over Texas-Arlington on Jan. 1. Additionally, he recorded a double-double — 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists — in a competitive 68-58 loss at then-No. 16 Memphis on Nov. 20.
His per-40-minute numbers last season are noteworthy: 15.8 points and 9.6 rebounds. He registered five double-doubles last season.
As a freshman at Little Rock in ’18-19, Johnson started 15 of the 27 games he played in and averaged 5.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in 19.2 minutes per game while shooting 55.2% from the field and 50.8% from the free throw line.
Johnson is the younger brother of former NBA second-round draft pick, Kentucky Wildcat, and 2013 McDonald’s All American Dakari Johnson, a 7-footer who as a sophomore helped lead the juggernaut Wildcats to a 38-0 record before a loss against Wisconsin in the Final Four.