'Nova's hopes sprout in Maryland
Tyrone Johnson of Montrose Christian is on the way.
ROCKVILLE, Md. - The 1960s-style home on the 5000 block of Randolph Road could very well have been the set for The Brady Bunch. But this rather ordinary suburban residence has been the home away from home for three of Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright's most prized recruits, including a high school senior who could become the team's next great point guard.
The young man is Tyrone Johnson, a Plainfield, N.J., native who headlines Villanova's strong 2011 recruiting class, and the home is the "basketball house" of the Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md., the same place that Villanova sophomores Mouphtaou Yarou and Isaiah Armwood once called home.
After Villanova's season-ending six-game losing streak, capped by the March 18 loss to George Mason in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Wildcats fans are in dire need of some hope. And Johnson's emergence as the leader of a nationally ranked high school team offers them a hopeful note.
Ty Johnson is a gifted athlete who became the starting point guard and quarterback on the varsity basketball and football teams in his freshman year at Plainfield High in North Jersey. By his junior year, he was starting on both sides of the ball in football, and was attracting interest from Division I football and basketball coaches.
Monica Johnson, a single mother who worked hard to move her family out of Plainfield's tough West End to a quieter part of town, knew he had talent but wasn't sure he was even the most gifted player in the family.
"I thought my daughter [Shannon] was going to be the best player in the house, to be honest," she said in a telephone interview. "She had big things in store for her."
But Shannon Johnson's basketball career was derailed at age 11. Just before Christmas in 2001, she and Ty, then 8, were about to cross the street in front of their home when a car careened out of control and struck her. The driver did not stop, but Ty had the presence of mind to get help for his sister, who had to be airlifted to a hospital and was in critical condition for more than three weeks.
Shannon made a full recovery, but never played basketball again. Ty wears a tattoo on his left arm with a basketball sitting in the palm of a hand, with a crown on top of it, and says that it signifies the torch being passed to him.
After three seasons at Plainfield, Johnson left the football team and then decided to leave home to play at Montrose for coach Stu Vetter, who has mentored eight players who went on to play in the NBA, including Kevin Durant and Greivis Vasquez.
This year, Johnson was a key part of Montrose's 24-1 season, which was chronicled by the Fox College Sports television show Hoops Academy. He averaged 15 points per game playing in a college-style system that does not allow individuals to rack up gaudy statistics.
In December, Villanova fans had a chance to watch the 6-foot-3 guard lead Montrose to a decisive victory at the Randy Foye Invitational over nationally ranked Council Rock North, coached by Wright's brother, Derek.
In February, Johnson created a stir during a blowout victory over another nationally ranked high school, Findlay Prep of Henderson, Nev., with a monster dunk over Amir Garrett, a 6-6 standout who could start at St. John's next year.
Montrose captured the championship in the ESPN RISE National High School Invitational April 2 in Rockville, Md. The Villanova recruit scored 21 points in a 71-64, double-overtime victory against Oak Hill Academy in the title game. Johnson was named tournament MVP.
Vetter praises Johnson's work ethic and toughness.
"Tyrone has the ability to be an outstanding player in the Big East," Vetter said. "He's not only a point guard but a guy who can score. He'll be in the tradition of some of the other outstanding guards Villanova has had."
The fact that Villanova has a feeder system from one of the nation's elite scholastic basketball programs bodes well for the Main Line school's future.
"We're definitely building something here," said Armwood, a Villanova forward who starred at Montrose. "With me and Mouph coming and now Tyrone, the next great player that comes through Montrose is obviously going to look at Villanova just because we went there."
Indeed, Montrose's next great player, 6-7 junior forward Justin Anderson, did look at 'Nova, which had been courting him since he was in the eighth grade, but he committed to Maryland.
But Johnson knows at least two of Villanova's other top recruits and thinks that the team's future is bright.
Achraf Yacoubou "is from New York, he's a solid 2-guard who can shoot and plays great defense - and he complements the point guards well," Johnson said. "And we've also got Markus Kennedy [a Philadelphian who plays at Winchendon School in Massachusetts], who's a big man [6-9] who can bang inside, and he's a great off-the-court kid.
"We're going to bring some energy, some spark as the freshman class. We want to come in and win right away."
But how quickly can Johnson and the other newcomers contribute? Yarou and Armwood were also top prospects, and although they have shown promise in their first two seasons, neither has reached his full potential to date.
Villanova's losing streak hasn't gone unnoticed at Montrose's basketball house, where Ty and teammates from Denmark, Japan, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela live together under one roof. But he still can't wait to get to Villanova. His mother is perhaps even more eager, as the move will bring him closer to home. She drives a bus part-time in Plainfield, and is already making plans to attend her first Villanova game.
"I'm going to fill a whole bus full of all of Tyrone's friends and relatives and get everyone out to his first game," she said. "We can't wait."
Neither can Villanova's fans.