(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
For Phoenix Suns 2019 first-round draft pick Cameron Johnson, being selected by an NBA team with the No. 11 pick was something the forward had never experienced.
But just as quickly as his name and the moment of it all went by, Johnson and the Suns brass was criticized for the selection.
Johnson, however, is unfazed, as the forward has been around the block a few times in dealing with doubters over the course of his basketball career.
“When I first signed with the University of Pittsburgh they said the exact same thing,” Johnson told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo. “Fast forward to North Carolina and the same things were said. ‘Are we sure this kid can contribute, does he belong in this level’ as if I didn’t play in the ACC for a couple years before so I’m used to hearing that and I love it, I love it.
“It gives me a little more motivation, keeps a little bit of a chip on my shoulder but couldn’t say it’s the first time I heard that. To me, I’m honored that they saw enough in me to take me at 11 and I’ll do everything in my power to make it the right move for them.”
One thing most can agree on is Johnson’s shooting.
In 36 games with North Carolina last season, Johnson averaged 16.9 points, shooting just over 55.6% from the field and 45.7% from deep, career marks for the forward. He led all Tar Heels scorers.
And while he led his college team in shooting from 3-point range, Johnson believes he provides more than just baskets.
“I think basketball IQ is a big aspect of my game — maybe that’s not noticed at the beginning — but I just try to pride myself on making the right play,” Johnson said. “Being in the right spots offensively, being in the right spots defensively, whether that’s coming up with a deflection, taking a charge, swinging the ball to the open man and maybe getting into the paint, helping breakdown the defense.
“There’s a lot of room for guys in the NBA that are quick decision makers. Can knock down a shot and keep the flow of the offense moving and can contribute on the glass and on the defensive end. That’s where I think I’ll really start to make my mark.”
The Suns certainly saw something others didn’t in the forward, selecting Johnson higher than the consensus rankings had him.
It was clear for Johnson as to where he wanted to be too.
“I felt good and I felt like I shot the ball well in the workout, but when I left I just had a really comfortable feeling about it,” Johnson said. “I had a really comfortable feeling with the front office, coach [Monty] Williams, Mr. [James] Jones, Mr. [Jeff] Bower, everyone. It felt different than a lot of other visits.
“On top of that, I just loved the Phoenix area when I was down there for that visit. I left Phoenix pretty happy, but understood that they had the sixth pick and the 32nd pick and something would have to go down for me to get there. Just so honored that they made that move and decide to select me when they did.”
With the Suns picking at No. 6 and 32nd and the UNC forward projecting to go by the early 20s, Johnson had three teams not named Phoenix on his list of potential destinations.
It wasn’t until the team made the trade down to No. 11 when there was a real chance for him to end up in the Valley.
“Like I said, talking about a place to be and people to be around, I thought Phoenix was at the very top of my list and I’m really excited about it.”
And as for his hips?
Johnson’s never felt better.
“They feel great, they feel way better than they ever felt and in fact, they continue to improve,” Johnson said when asked about his injury history. “They feel great now, it was a corrective thing. It wasn’t like I was trying to get back to a level, it was something that I did to get me to a higher level of play.”