CHICAGO — Over three seasons with the Arizona Wildcats, guard Nick Johnson set the bar sometimes impossibly high for acrobatics.
On Friday at the NBA combine, former teammate Aaron Gordon re-set the bar for non-guards. Literally.
Yet neither was happy.
Especially Johnson. Trying to show off his athleticism in his bid for a first-round draft pick next month, Johnson posted a maximum vertical leap of 41½ inches in testing Friday.
While that was tied for third best in the combine, it did not approach the 47 inches UA said Johnson jumped last fall nor the 50-inch goal Johnson set for himself.
He is, after all, the son of former pro player “Jumping” Joey Johnson, and the guy with the Twitter handle “@Air_Zona13.”
“It is” disappointing, Johnson said, saying his legs were tired and cramping after a 75-minute workout prior to the test.
“But, I mean, I still I think I showed how athletic I am. With my history and my family, people knew that coming in. I just can tell you if you think that’s impressive just wait until I get my legs under me.”
Gordon was similarly grumpy after his leap, even as he blew up the ESPN coverage of the combine when he jumped so high that officials had to raise the stack of vertical measuring sticks. He recorded a 39-inch vertical leap, the most of any non-guard at the combine.
“Thirty-nine is not bad,” Gordon said, but added “I can jump better than that.”
Gordon also had a standing vertical leap of 32½ inches, another leap that is considered exceptional for a player of his size.
UA said he had 34½ inches in the standing vertical and 43 inches in the max vertical during its testing last fall.
What the numbers all mean, though, really, may not be a whole lot for either player. After all, UA coach Sean Miller said all NBA teams repeatedly watched the Wildcats in practice last season, not to mention their games.
NBA guys have seen how many times Johnson rose above defenders — or prompted them to move out of the way — when he dunked the ball.
“People kind of know where he is at this point,” said Jonathan Givony, president of Draft Express, which tracks NBA prospects. “I don’t think they’re going to be surprised by anything he does here.”
It may have been, then, that Johnson gained the most ground this week during private interviews with teams.
“I do a lot of things off the court, a lot of things people don’t see,” Johnson said. “So I’m just trying to show that in my interviews and workouts.
“I’m very upbeat, and just showing them my personality, that I’m a high- character kid.”
On the court, Johnson said he’s versatile and a proven defender, though he said he realizes he has questions to answer about where he plays. He is billing himself as a point guard, or at least somebody who can evolve into one.
For now, at least, Johnson is a combo guard with the potential to defend all types of NBA guards, comparing his potential path to pro guards such as Eric Bledsoe (Phoenix Suns), Mario Chalmers (Miami Heat) and Avery Bradley (Boston Celtics).
“I think there’s a lot of guys who were in my position coming out of college — two guards who are really athletic,” Johnson said. “Known for their defense a little bit, really explosive — and made the transition to the one.”
Johnson said he realized he would not make that transition at Arizona, not with T.J. McConnell, “one of the best point guards in the country,” around next season.
That was one of several reasons, he said, he made the decision to leave Arizona a year before his eligibility expired. Another: That he would be a 6-foot-1½-inch shooting guard trying to transition to the point whenever he left.
“I wasn’t going to grow in the year that I came back,” Johnson said. “I’m done growing. My athleticism would have probably been the same. I could have improved on my shot but I’m doing that now. …
“I think it was perfect for me to come out this year and show what I can do.”
He has the next six weeks to do it, leading up to the June 26 draft, then over the summer with whatever team picks him.
There’s a new bar to set.
Gordon, for one, won’t be surprised to see Johnson keep pushing it higher.
“Nick is going to surprise a lot of people,” Gordon said. “He’s extremely athletic. Very, very talented and a better shooter than people might think. He’s a winner. He’s a high-character guy and will do anything it takes to win.
“He’s going to be a steal, man. Nick Johnson’s going to be a steal.”