Clemson Gets Johnson
Clemson, SC - Noel Johnson had his USC gear ready and his bags packed for the West Coast.
Instead, the upheaval in the Trojans' program that included the departure of coach Tim Floyd and several key players led Johnson to Clemson.
``I just wanted to come home,'' said Johnson, of Fayetteville, Ga.
Instead of a four-hour plane ride, Johnson's just a 90-minute drive from his friends and family.
Johnson and Clemson's other incoming freshmen - 6-foot-9 McDonald's All-American Milton Jennings; 6-8 forward Devin Booker, the brother of Clemson star Trevor; and 6-4 guard Donte Hill - met with the media Wednesday.
It's a group Johnson's joked should be called the ``Fab Four,'' although if he stuck to his original plan, he'd have been making the same observations about Southern Cal's newcomers.
Johnson was part of a stellar class recruited to USC by former coach Tim Floyd.
Johnson committed early and enjoyed a worry-free senior season at Fayette County High School.
g news on many fronts that had Johnson rethinking his pledge.
First in April were Floyd's discussions with Arizona about its basketball vacancy, which he eventually turned down.
Then in May, YahooSports.com reported that Louis Johnson, a former associate of ex-USC star O.J. Mayo's, told federal and NCAA investigators that Floyd paid $1,000 in cash to Rodney Guillory, who steered Mayo to USC.
Noel Johnson and his family had heard enough and asked the school for his release.
``That's when I really wanted to reconsider my choice,'' Johnson said.
Floyd stepped down last month, saying he couldn't offer the level of enthusiasm the Trojans deserved.
Since Southern Cal's season ended in March, returning players DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson, Daniel Hackett and Marcus Johnson left early for the NBA draft. Southern Cal had lost seven recruits.
When Clemson coach Oliver Purnell learned Johnson left, he tried to make contact without success.
But Johnson's father, former Wichita State standout Lynbert ``Cheese'' Johnson, told Purnell his son kept saying, ``What about Clemson? What about Clemson?'' Purnell said.
The Tigers needed an outside shooter of Johnson's skill with the departures of last year's senior K.C. Rivers and sophomore Terrence Oglesby, who chose to play professionally overseas instead of finishing his last two college seasons.
ing LSU and Georgia Tech, ``had all the guards they needed,'' he said. ``With Oglesby and Rivers leaving, I could just step right in.''
The Johnsons visited Clemson and Noel thought it the perfect place for him to play basketball. The Pac-10 was nice, he said, but this was the Atlantic Coast Conference, home of the national championship programs like North Carolina and Duke.
``I wanted to be close to home where my friends and family could see me play,'' Johnson said. ``Plus, the ACC is the best conference in the country.''
So why leave in the first place?
Johnson said he liked Floyd and was deadset on Southern Cal. And if Floyd were still the coach, Johnson said he'd most likely suit up for the Trojans this fall.
``I had my mind made up, but after the season, the stress level went up,'' he said.
``Cheese'' Johnson spoke to Floyd last week, Noel said, to see how he was doing. The former basketball is holding up through it all. ``He's doing pretty good,'' Johnson said of Floyd.
Johnson's newest coach was floored such a talented, smart player fell to the Tigers. ``That's a clear indication our brand is hot,'' Purnell said.
It could get hotter still.
4-47 at Littlejohn Coliseum - in nearly 20 years.
Johnson said he the other freshmen have joked about being a ``Fab Four'' and leading the Tigers to big things. He knows, though, he might've been part of similarly high expectations on the other side of the country at Southern Cal.
And what about his USC caps and T-shirts? ``I've got rid of it, sold it,'' he said, laughing. ``It's about Clemson now.''
Posted: 7/16/09 8:15PM ET