Arizona guard Nick Johnson (NICK JOHNSON) holds up three fingers after knocking down a three-pointer during the first half of the Arizona vs. Arizona State men's college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz. The No. 7 Wildcats downed the Sun Devils 71-54. Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star *NO MAGS NO SALES, MANDATORY CREDIT*

NCAA tournament spectators may never forget the gruesome compound leg fracture that Louisville’s Kevin Ware suffered en route to the Cardinals’ NCAA title last season.

But what really caught the eye of Arizona Wildcats guard Nick Johnson was what happened immediately afterward.

Louisville guard Russ Smith begin crying. Forward Luke Hancock kneeled down to talk to Ware. And forward Montrezl Harrell was shaking uncontrollably.

That said something to Johnson.

“I want to be so close like Louisville,” Johnson said. “Their player went down, and you saw the whole bench get up, and some of the players were crying. That’s how close they were. It was literally like they were brothers.

“I think if you can have that (feeling), every person does their job because they don’t want to let down their brother. It just makes the team that much better.”

So with that in mind, and with the help of his house-finding girlfriend, Johnson locked up six of his teammates into a duplex over the summer.

Johnson, junior guard T.J. McConnell, sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski and junior forward Chris Johnson are living in one house. In the other one live sophomore guard Gabe York, junior forward Brandon Ashley and sophomore forward Zach Peters.

“I love it,” Nick Johnson said. “It’s great. I thought it would be cool to live with the team. We’re already together all day, every day anyway.”

Johnson said UA coach Sean Miller also loved the idea of so many players together. In all, the seven roommates represent all but three of the players eligible to live off campus since UA freshmen players are assigned to dorms.

In a recent interview, Johnson discussed a variety of on- and off-court topics.

Did you feel chemistry was missing the last couple of seasons?

A: I wouldn’t say missing, it just wasn’t that strong. I felt that if we were a little bit closer … this year, I know it’s going to be crucial.

Have you learned anything surprising about your roommates?

A: Not really because Kaleb pretty much lived with us last year (Johnson shared a home last season with McConnell and manager David Miller). Zach is new, but he’s really mellow and doesn’t really step on anybody’s toes or anything like that. He’s a funny guy. He’s a gentle giant kind of guy.

Do you guys cook?

A: Chris and Kaleb are chefs. Their favorite shows are the food shows. They just watch the food channels all day. They literally can watch them all day.

Kaleb tried to just make some shrimp and scallops but, I don’t know… he messed up. It wasn’t good. He’s gonna be mad at me for saying that.

Without Solomon (Hill) and Mark (Lyons) around, do you feel like you need to be more of a leader this year?

A: Definitely. With them gone, I definitely feel I’m the next person who needs to take the reins, along with T.J. because he’s the point guard, and (Jordin) Mayes because he’s our only senior on the team. Then Brandon and Kaleb, them being the freshmen who played last year, are kind of in my role that I was in last year, just getting one year under their belt and knowing what to do.

Is this team as good as any since you’ve been here?

A: Definitely. We have a lot of good pieces. We did lose a big part of our team from last year, but I think we’ve reloaded. We’ve got a bunch of young guys

who are ready to compete, and getting T.J. is going

to add a new dimension to our offense that we haven’t had.

Will having T.J. at the point free you up more?

A: Yeah, I won’t probably have to distribute as much, but that’s still one part of my game that I love to do so I definitely won’t go away from that. But (McConnell) sees everything on the floor and makes the right pass. It’s definitely going to be something interesting to watch.

What’s your impression of Aaron Gordon?

A: He’s great. He’s what’s advertised. He works hard, and he’s still 17 years old. He’s a great athlete and a harder worker. I’m just excited to see what he does.

He was second to you in the mile run. (Johnson ran a 5:21 and Gordon 5:22 in UA’s annual preseason test). Did that surprise you?

A: He just killed his time. He definitely surprised some people.

How about (freshmen) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Elliott Pitts?

A: Rondae is a typical East Coast kid — hard-nosed, gritty, works his butt off. He and Aaron are working on what they have to improve on as far as playing the three. Both have been working so hard in the weight room they’re just monsters. I can’t wait to see what they have to do, and Elliott, the program he comes from (California’s De La Salle High School) just sets you up for success. He listens, he takes advice, he works his tail off, and he’s probably made the most progress as far as his body as anybody over the last few months. He probably gained 10 pounds of muscle.

What’s up with Zach Peters (who has been limited because of prior concussions and whose eligibility is in question after transferring from Kansas)?

A: He’s a kid that I wanted here really bad. When I heard we were going after him, I told Coach, ‘That’s the guy we need.’ I had seen him play when I was in the EYBL (a travel-team competition); he was younger than me, but he was a tough Texas kid, with a good body and could shoot the ball. I really felt with our loss of Grant (Jerrett, to pro basketball), he would be someone we could definitely use.”


Bruce is a veteran Star sports reporter who has also worked at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He graduated from Northwestern University and has an MBA from Thunderbird.