The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, April 07, 2021 5:50 pm

Pitt guard Xavier Johnson transferring to IU

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The wins keep coming for new Indiana coach Mike Woodson.

This afternoon, former Pittsburgh guard Xavier Johnson announced he will be transferring to play for the Hoosiers next season. Johnson averaged 14.2 points and 5.7 assists this season as a junior with the Panthers and has been a high-scoring, play-making guard throughout his college career.

Also in Johnson's top four were Baylor, Houston and St. Joe's. Considering that Baylor just won a national championship with a rotation comprised heavily of transfers, it's significant that Woodson and his staff were able to convince the Woodbridge, Virginia, native that Indiana was a better destination for him.

Johnson's decision is the latest piece of good news to hit the suddenly-energized program since the new coach took the job less than two weeks ago. Just this week, former Michigan State associate head coach Dane Fife left to be part of Woodson's staff and Jordan Geronimo and Khristian Lander pulled their names out of the transfer portal. Now, the Hoosiers have another veteran ball-handler to pair with those youngsters.

Johnson was not especially high on recruiting boards coming out of high school, ranking only No. 232 nationally in the class of 2018. He's been an impact player from the moment he arrived at Pittsburgh, however, averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists as a freshman. His scoring numbers have dropped during the course of his career, but his assist numbers have increased and he ranked 17th in the country in assists per game in 2020-21. 

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Johnson always had the ball in his hands a lot with the Panthers, scoring or assisting on a huge percentage of Pittsburgh's points. He's been a volume shooter and his percentages aren't particularly strong: in 2020-21, he shot 42.6% from the field and 32.1% from 3-point range. Another guard that struggles to hit shots from the outside is not exactly what Indiana needs, but the caveat there is that the Panthers were an under-.500 team in all three seasons he was with the program. If he is surrounded by more talented players, as he will be at Indiana, it's possible that his percentages will rise as the pressure on him to produce eases. He's also a talented, strong defensive player who averaged 1.3 steals per game this season and 1.8 in 2019-20. He should be able to guard anyone from 1-3, which will be helpful in Woodson's switch-heavy offense.

Johnson's arrival in Bloomington seems to have been facilitated in large part by Hoosiers assistant coach Kenya Hunter, who recruited Johnson out of high school when Hunter was an assistant at Nebraska. Johnson originally committed to the Cornhuskers before Hunter left to take a job at Connecticut. Woodson's decision to keep Hunter, who was hired during the final season of the Archie Miller Era, on staff seems to have paid off already.

This is also not the first time Indiana has brought in a former Panther. In 2015, former Pittsburgh guard Josh Newkirk transferred to play his final two seasons with the Hoosiers and he scored 528 points in 65 career games at IU.

Johnson's decision could affect guard Armaan Franklin's choice on whether to stay at Indiana or play elsewhere next season. Johnson and Franklin have similar skillsets – though Franklin was a better shooter this year – and there will be plenty of competition for minutes at guard next year, especially with another former Pittsburgh guard, Parker Stewart, also stepping into the rotation. Franklin is one of two Hoosiers who still has his name in the transfer portal, along with Race Thompson.

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