PHOENIX — The first time Nick Johnson stepped onto the Phoenix Suns practice court, his teammate was Jahii Carson, his coach was Rex Chapman and … he was 8, maybe 9, years old.
This was a bit different.
Johnson joined Elfrid Payton and four other NBA draft prospects for a workout Thursday for the Suns, who hold three first-round picks and the No. 50 overall selection.
Widely projected as a second-round pick, Johnson is hoping to latch on to a first-round spot like the one the Suns have at No. 27. But he gave the impression Thursday that even going to Phoenix at No. 50 wouldn’t be all bad, either.
Not for a guy who grew up watching Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and company go deep into the NBA playoffs. And not for a guy who practiced inside the US Airways Center with an AND1 youth travel team coached by Chapman, a former Suns player.
With the Suns, “it was definitely one of the most exciting arenas in the NBA, and this year they got it back, I think,” Johnson said, later adding, “I would love to play at home. This is home for me.”
Johnson grew up in the Phoenix area, though he transferred to Nevada’s Findlay Prep as a junior in high school, then enrolled at UA two years later. After three seasons with the Wildcats, he opted to jump into the NBA draft pool a year early.
Although Johnson isn’t expected to gain the guaranteed money of the first round in the June 26 draft, he said he feels good about his decision to leave school.
“I had a great three years at Arizona, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Johnson said. “I think I chose the right decision just by all the feedback I’ve gotten. I think I was ready for this experience, and I’m taking advantage of it.”
The Suns were the seventh team Johnson said he has worked out for, and the public feedback from coach Jeff Hornacek and GM Ryan McDonough was also positive.
Phoenix ran the six prospects — which also included Melvin Ejim of Iowa State, Shawn Jones of Middle Tennessee State, Roscoe Smith of UNLV and T.J. Warren of North Carolina State — through a rugged workout that finished by having the prospects run as many lengths of the court as possible in three minutes.
Johnson raced through 28 lengths. The Suns said he also shot well after being worked out physically earlier in the morning.
“We try to wear guys out,” Hornacek said, adding of Johnson, “He’s strong, athletic and can really shoot the ball.”
While Johnson has had to face questions about what position he plays — he was a shooting guard at UA but has the size of an NBA point guard — McDonough indicated that Johnson’s versatility as a combo guard will help him somewhere.
“It gives you more flexibility, and with our current roster, if you can play a one or two, that’s an advantage,” McDonough said. “Guys who can only play one position are a little bit limited.
“I think like most rookies, he’ll come off the bench at first, be able to shoot the ball, put some points on the board. Defensively he’s got some strength.”
Already, Johnson has also received good feedback from Oklahoma City (which has picks No. 21 and No. 29) and Orlando (12), with both teams asking him back for a second look. The Knicks are also interested, Johnson said, if they can secure a draft pick.
Johnson said he has worked out for seven teams — the Bulls, Suns, Magic, Thunder, Hawks, Celtics and Raptors — so the visit to Phoenix gave him a much-needed rest stop at home.
After Thursday’s workout, Johnson was expecting to spend the weekend at home before leaving for a workout with the Clippers on Monday.
Then it’s back to the grind: After LA comes Denver, Houston, Minnesota and Cleveland, Johnson said, making travel even tougher than the drills teams are putting him through.
The tiring part “would be the airplanes, the travel,” Johnson said. “When you have 10 flights here to six cities in a week and a half, it’s tough. But it’s also fun. I mean, not a lot of guys are able to do this, so it’s a good experience. You get to see every practice arena and stuff like that.”
Which included that one special practice court, in that one special city.
“When I got to the hotel last night, it started to kick in,” Johnson said. “I started remembering all the practices we had here. … When I walked in, it felt like home.”