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NBA Draft: Sixers meet with Cam Johnson, a lights-out shooter and potential first-round steal at combine

Johnson, a 6-foot-8 swingman who shot 45.7 percent from three-point range last season, met with Elton Brand at the NBA Draft combine.

North Carolina guard Cameron Johnson gestures after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Miami on Jan. 19.
North Carolina guard Cameron Johnson gestures after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Miami on Jan. 19.Read moreBrynn Anderson / AP

CHICAGO – Cam Johnson could end up being one of the steals of the June 20 NBA draft.

The former North Carolina swingman is a lights-out shooter with limitless range. He’s a solid defender and a great character guy.

Yet, the 6-foot-8, 205-pounder is projected to be a late first-round pick due to his age. The Western Pennsylvania native turned 23 on March 3 and spent five years in college. These days, the top picks of the draft are often 19- to 20-year-olds who spend one or two seasons in college.

NBA teams like to draft younger players based on their potential. The thought is that older players have already peaked.

Johnson disagrees.

“I think I have have room for growth,” the All-ACC first-teamer said. “I think I can make [my age] work in my favor.”

Johnson can point to the big games he has played in over the years that will help him in the NBA.

“Some of the younger guys are 18, 19 years old, going out, maybe living on their own for the first time,” he said. “I feel like I’m at a point of my life where I can handle a move to a different city and handle what pro basketball brought you."

His age could work in the Sixers’ favor. That’s because he could be available when they select at No. 24 in the draft. The team also has four second-round picks, Nos. 33, 34, 42 and 54.

Johnson, who has relatives in Philly and Blackwood, N.J., is one of the players they’re considering at No. 24. He met with Sixers general manager Elton Brand and his front office here at the NBA draft combine on Thursday.

“It went really good,” Johnson said of his interview. “It was encouraging. ... It was really good conversation.”

The Sixers didn’t talk with Johnson about projected roles. However, Johnson said that if he’s drafted by them, he’ll trust whatever the Sixers have in store for him.

In addition to having family in the area, he follows the Sixers due to the fellow Western Pennsylvanian on their roster, T.J. McConnell.

“I think right now he might be the only Western Pennsylvania kid in the league,” Johnson said. “So it’s great seeing a kid from my area, 10 minutes away, playing at that level.”

Johnson began his career at Pitt following a standout high school career at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Moon Township. He was forced to redshirt his freshman season after suffering a shoulder injury. Johnson went on to graduate from Pitt in three years with a communications degree, which made him eligible to transfer without sitting out a year. After the Panthers initially refused to release him to a conference foe, Johnson transferred to UNC with two seasons of eligibility.

He averaged 12.4 points and 4.7 rebounds for the Tar Heels during the 2017-18 season. This past season, he established himself as one nation’s top college players with career highs of 16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals while starting all 36 games.

Johnson also shot a career-best 45.7 percent on three-pointers, which ranked seventh in the nation, and became the first Tar Heel to lead the conference in three-point shooting since Raymond Felton in 2005. He was at his best on the road in ACC games, averaging 20.8 points on 58.3 percent shooting, including 57.4 percent on three-pointers.

“It blows my mind that Cam Johnson, people just don’t understand just how good he is,” ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg told North Carolina media members this season. “He’s having an All-ACC year and if Zion Williamson wasn’t who he was and maybe [RJ] Barrett, who’s playing better? I mean he shoots 50 [percent] from the field, almost 50 [percent] from the three.

"He is putting it on the floor. He is getting to the line. Every time he shoots it, you think it is going in. He is rebounding the ball.”