Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
But his mother, Makini Campbell, spoke extensively to SNY.tv Tuesday about her son’s plans and the schools he’s considering.
Campbell reiterated that her son plans to sign in the spring period — along with fellow elite players Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon — and that he is considering Florida, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio State and Syracuse — for now.
“Because of the early signing period, we realize some things will kind of change,” Campbell told SNY.tv.
“Some schools will probably not be in the mix because of some players that signed, and also whether or not schools have availability [of scholarships]. We looked at some schools that they tend to have had verbal commitments from players that are very similar to Dakari, so now he’s kind of getting the thought, ‘Well, maybe that’s not really the school that I may want to consider.’ You know what I mean?”
**Kentucky is a major player for Johnson, in part, because he spent three years at Sayre’s Middle School in Lexington, Ky., and the family lived there “for about three, four years,” Campbell said. She confirmed that Kentucky had offered her son “weeks ago.”
“Kentucky is on his list,” Campbell said. “And we’re watching them. Most of the guys who signed there are not players like Dakari.”
Kentucky’s loaded class features guards, wings and forwards like Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis, but no center.
“But we also noted you still have Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, which is similar to Dakari and so it’s a whole process, looking to see where you’re needed, what’s the best fit,” Campbell said.
She didn’t rule out Johnson joining forces with another big, such as a Noel or a Cauley-Stein, should one or both not go one-and-done.
“That could be good for him in a sense, you know what I mean?” she said. “Just like when he was at St. Pat’s and he had [recent Illinois commit] Austin Colbert. They complemented each other, especially in practice. It’s not that. You just kind of wonder if it’s the same kind of guy like yourself.”
Campbell said it’s also appealing that they have “friends and extended family” in Lexington.
“Actually, last Thanksgiving we spent time with his friends there, with his extended family,” she said. “So for him that is kind of like going back to something that ‘s very familiar and something that is likable.
“As a parent, with you not being there in the same place as your child, you always want, kids always say, ‘I have an aunt there’ or ‘I have an uncle there,’ there’s someone to kind of look after him,” she added. “So that’s comforting for me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it might be the best fit for him, but I think that will definitely have an appeal for him.”
Kentucky’s record of one-and-dones to the NBA is also appealing.
“I’m sure it’s appealing,” she said. “One thing it says is that they are preparing for the guys for that next stage. I wouldn’t see why that wouldn’t be appealing…What he’s looking for in a school, too, is his development. Academically, he’ll be fine. He understands what he needs to do. He has a family of college graduates. He knows what he wants to study, he has his head on straight there but he does want to know that there’s going to be some development that takes place and that he’s going to play on a stage where he’s going to be recognized.”
**Syracuse has recently landed pledges from 2013 big man Chinonso Obokoh and 2014 forward Chris McCullough. They also have freshman big man DaJuan Coleman and sophomore big Rakeem Christmas, among others, on the roster.
“Well, I’m not clear, there’s a question mark on Syracuse,” Campbell said. “I’m not sure if one, a scholarship is available, two, whether or not, the players that were signed are very similar to Dakari, whether or not he can be an impact [player] there. That’s a question for him. He’s in analyzing stage right now.”
Campbell said she was uncertain if Coleman and/or Christmas might jump to the NBA after this season.
“It’s like if they’re there and the guys that they have signed are there, then it’s kind of like, does it make sense?” she said. “Would he be impactful there? Will there be a need for a player like Dakari?
“You kind of want to go somewhere where you’re needed.”
Still, Campbell pointed out that the family has a strong relationship with Orange assistant Adrian “Red’ Autry, who began recruiting Johnson when Autry was at Virginia Tech and Johnson was in middle school.
“It’s a longstanding relationship so that’s appealing,” she said of Autry.
**Another school that recently landed a 2013 big man is Kansas, which signed Joel Embiid as part of their class.
“One of his good friends, Jojo, who played for him last year, he just to committed to Kansas and so that’s a question mark for him right now,” Campbell said.
Still, she likes how Kansas “runs the ball through their bigs. They’ve been known to have bigs developed. Of course, Danny Manning is not there anymore, but that has been the appeal. And of course Coach [Norm] Roberts was here last year and he moved to Kansas. So he was recruiting Dakari for Florida and then went to Kansas…Of course, their history and tradition speaks for itself.”
**Florida is another option. He attends school in the state and his Montverde teammate, Kasey Hill, is headed to the Gators.
“We did an unofficial at Florida,” she said. “We met Coach [Billy] Donovan. He was probably one of the first coaches to sit us down the first time that they were able to come out and so it was really good because we were able to ask questions and talk about his offense.
“The point guard that he’s playing with this year is on his way to UF. I’m sure that’s appealing to him.”
**Georgetown is another option, and Campbell said her son was especially excited to watch the Hoyas play No. 1 Indiana Tuesday night in the Legends Classic final.
“He’s dying to watch them play Indiana,” she said.
He has also met with Coach John Thompson III.
“He presented his program and Georgetown itself, it speaks for itself,” she said. “Academically it’s a really good school. So their focus was on the big guy and of course they can back that up.”
**Ohio State is also in the mix and has had big men like Jared Sullinger make the NBA.
“Their tradition,” she said. “I spoke to their coaches and so that’s the appeal there. We’re going to explore that a little bit more, know more about that.”
To sum it all up, Campbell said, “I would say it’s even across the board. No one has stood out.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.