Potential NBA Lottery Pick AJ Johnson Chooses Australian Pro League Over College Hoops

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Why go to school when you can go to Australia?

Five-star recruit A.J. Johnson has de-committed from the University of Texas. Instead, he signed a deal with the Illawarra Hawks of the Australian NBL.

The 6-foot-6 guard from California committed to play for the Longhorns in the fall. Johnson had been a possible one-and-done lottery pick in the 2024 NBA Draft.

But he says the college game isn’t really his style.

“The college environment is a bit more controlled and about X’s and O’s and not as much about playing off of feel and freedom,” Johnson told 247Sports. “I feel like I thrive in more of an up and down system…. I also want to get started on my professional career and taking it more serious so that I can really lock in on the game and try to be the best player I can be.”

Potential NBA Lottery Pick A.J. Johnson Chooses Australian Pro League Over College Hoops
(Credit: AJ Johnson)

A senior at the Southern California Academy, Johnson is the No. 15 player in his class and the No. 1 player in the state, according to 247Sports.

Here’s what On3 had to say about him as a prospect:

AJ Johnson is a jet-fast point guard with elite end-to-end speed. He has great length and good size as a lead guard. Johnson will need to add weight; he is very skinny at this point. But his burst and explosion get him to his spots. Johnson is decisive getting downhill, using his dribble to attack the paint. Johnson has upside on defense with his length and quick twitch. The pull-up jump shot is a weapon in the mid-range. He is an above-average shooter that could continue to tighten. His natural tools are impressive, and as he continues to add weight, his ceiling is as high as any player in the 2023 class.

A.J. Johnson On3 Scouting Summary

Johnson was one of two five-star, top-15 commits for Texas in the 2023 class, alongside top-10 prospect Ron Holland.

A.J. Johnson Skips Out on College Hoops

Johnson is the highest-profile American prospect to enter the NBL’s Next Stars program since Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball spent the 2019-20 season in Australia. Ball then became the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NBA draft.

“I feel like me and LaMelo have similar styles, and we both like to play off feel and just making plays in space,” Johnson told 247 Sports. “I’m trying to go off the same things that he and (Josh) Giddey did, and I feel like they came into the league a lot better prepared than many other players because of it.”

The NBL’s Next Stars program has been a developmental program largely centered on Australian and European talent.

With the emergence of NIL, many American players are capitalizing on their name and likeness through collegiate ball β€” reducing the appeal of other professional venues like the NBL and the G League.

But Johnson says he’s intrigued by the “freedom” of playing pro ball in Australia. And Hawks GM of Basketball Mat Campbell says they are “thrilled” to have him.

“To be able to secure a player of AJ’s caliber continues to speak volumes of the growth and the credibility of the NBL,” Campbell said. “The Hawks look forward to playing an integral role in his personal and professional development leading into the 2024 NBA draft.”

Written by Amber Harding

Amber is a Midwestern transplant living in Murfreesboro, TN. She spends most of her time taking pictures of her dog, explaining why real-life situations are exactly like "this one time on South Park," and being disappointed by the Tennessee Volunteers.

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