On the floor during a December tournament game in Mission Viejo, California, incoming Arizona Wildcats wing Stanley Johnson had two words for high school rival Justin Simon.
It wasn’t trash talk.
“Bear Down,” Johnson said.
Simon’s father, Ken, described that impromptu recruiting pitch, adding that Johnson flat-out told his son he should also play for the Wildcats. On Tuesday, Justin Simon decided to do just that.
On his 18th birthday, the versatile, 6-foot-5-inch junior guard from Temecula Valley (California) High School announced he committed to the Wildcats for the 2015-16 season, turning down a long-term offer from Santa Clara as well as recent interest from Louisville, Kansas and Washington.
Johnson’s words and unofficial visits in November and March may have closed the deal, but Simon, according to his father, had always been interested in Arizona.
“When he was young, around 10, 11 or 12, he always picked the Wildcats when he played (video) games,” Ken Simon said.
Although Justin Simon was unavailable for comment to the Star on Tuesday, he told Scout.com that Arizona “has always been my dream school.”
Nothing he did during unofficial visits in November and March appeared to change that. Not only did Justin Simon watch UA clinch the Pac-12 title with its win over Stanford on March 2, but he also took in an eye-opening practice.
“He really felt he could fit in,” Ken Simon said. “He went to one practice and fell in love with the way Sean Miller ran practice. My wife and daughter came to a game as well, and it was outstanding. For my daughter and wife to feel the enthusiasm …
“You go to a lot of places, and there’s not too many people in the crowd. Justin loves the crowd. He plays for the fans, and he really loves the atmosphere.”
Ken Simon said his son also developed a strong relationship with UA assistant coach Damon Stoudamire and was impressed by how the UA staff developed players, in particular guard Nick Johnson.
“Nick has the same kind of skill set as Justin,” Ken Simon said. “We pay attention to how things happen.”
Simon, rated a five-star recruit by Scout.com and a four-star by ESPN, is known as a slashing combo guard who has an unusual focus on defense for a high school junior.
Josh Gershon, a Southern California-based analyst for Scout, said Simon can defend three positions (point guard, shooting guard and small forward) and can also at least play both guard spots.
“In the same way that (UA’s) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is so versatile that he can play a three or four, maybe two, Justin is a guard version of that,” Gershon said.
Simon’s versatility suggests he can mix in with the Wildcats’ first 2014 commit, guard Tyler Dorsey of St. John Bosco in Bellflower, California. While Dorsey is primarily a shooting guard, Simon can potentially play behind point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright or on the wing.
“You don’t know what Arizona’s roster will be like his freshman year, but he can back up Parker if for some reason he wasn’t able to go, and he can start at one of the off-guard spots,” Gershon said. “That’s the best thing about getting a kid like that — you never know what (the roster will be). When you get a kid that versatile, it solves a lot of problems.”
Of course, that freshman year roster in 2015-16 probably won’t include Johnson, who is already projected as a 2015 NBA lottery pick. But Ken Simon said his son became sure he wanted to join the team after letting his unofficial visits sink in and picturing himself a Wildcat.
For real. Not just in video games.
“He said, ‘It’s my birthday, and I want to make a decision. I want to make a commitment,’ ” Ken Simon said. “A lot of good things happened today.”
- Former Boston College forward
- Ryan Anderson
- is to take his recruiting visit to Arizona on Thursday, after visiting Iowa State last weekend and rescheduling a planned visit to Indiana for earlier this week, according to his Twitter account.
- The Pac-12 is holding annual meetings through today in Phoenix, and UA will hold an “Arizona Road Stop” tonight from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the OHSO Eatery + nanoBrewery in Phoenix. Miller, UA football coach
- Rich Rodriguez
- and AD
- Greg Byrne
- are scheduled to attend.