This changes the perception.

Justified or not, there was a belief that Girard College couldn't produce big-time college basketball talent.

Players for Kutztown University, Chestnut Hill College, and Bloomsburg, yes. But there's no way Atlantic Coast Conference or Big East schools would drool over someone at the tiny boarding school. Or so we thought.

Cavaliers sophomore John Johnson is one of the area's most-sought-after basketball players.

The 6-foot-1 point guard said yesterday that he has scholarship offers from Villanova, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Penn State, St. Joe's, La Salle, and Drexel. He's also receiving recruiting interest from UCLA, Kansas, Clemson, Kansas State, Marquette, Notre Dame, and Arizona.

"Everybody was telling me that Girard is not the place for me," said Johnson, who came close to transferring after his freshman year. "People told me our league [Bicentennial Athletic] is weak. And we don't send people to Division I schools."

Nowadays, those former naysayers are telling the 16-year-old to disregard their original message. "Stay and become a legend" are the words they are now repeating.

It's refreshing that Johnson didn't follow through on the former suggestion. And it is more refreshing that he's listening to the latter.

Who are we kidding?

If you can play basketball like Johnson, college coaches will find you. Especially in a basketball-crazy town like Philadelphia.

Even if Johnson didn't get spotted in high school, recruiters would have surely seen him on the Team Final and Hunting Park Warriors AAU teams.

Johnson's long-range shooting, great burst off the dribble, quickness, and playmaking ability are hard to miss.

All his attributes were on display in last season's PIAA Class A state tournament.

The two-time Associated Press Class A all-state performer led the Cavaliers to their first state title.

Johnson finished with 37 points, five steals, and four assists despite sitting out most of the fourth quarter of an 86-51 semifinal victory over the Scotland School.

Then, in Girard's 80-70 state final win over Kennedy Catholic, he went toe-to-toe with Class A player of the year Kyle Randall.

Randall finished with a game-high 33 points. Johnson shot 11 of 18 from the field to score 30 points. He also finished with seven steals and four assists.

Shortly after that state final, Johnson blossomed into a top-flight recruit.

"St. Joe's, Virginia Tech, UCLA, Kansas, and 'Nova are my top five choices," he said.

Huh?

Didn't he say UCLA and Kansas didn't offer scholarships yet?

"Yeah, but I want to go to UCLA," Johnson said. "If they offer me, I think I will take it.

"I will like to make my decision this summer before school starts in the fall," Johnson said. "But I'm not in a rush.

"If I don't make it this summer, I will make it before my senior year."

And when Johnson makes it, he'll not only put a big smile on the face of his ailing grandmother, Elizabeth Betty Johnson, he will also destroy the myth about Girard not being able to produce major-college recruits.

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 610-313-8029 or kpompey@phillynews.com.
Read his columns at http://www.philly.com/inquirer/
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