In 2008, an undersized point point guard from the city of Philadelphia came to the University of South Carolina. Twelve years later, it could happen again.
Dawn Staley’s journey from Philly to Columbia has been well-documented. In the recruiting class of 2020, Diamond Johnson could follow an eerily similar path.
Johnson, ranked No. 6 nationally in her class by ESPN, has narrowed down her recruitment to a top five — along with South Carolina and Staley’s alma mater, Virginia, she’s considering Rutgers, Boston College and North Carolina State. She’s taken visits to all five and plans on making her decision some time during the early signing period from Nov. 13-20, according to her high school coach Andrea Peterson.
With a listed height of 5-foot-5, Johnson’s within an inch of Staley’s playing height of 5-foot-6. But her small frame belies a boundless, scrappy energy, not unlike a certain Philly legend.
“Number one, she never gets tired,” Peterson told The State. “She’s in really great shape. Her workout routine is on a whole ‘nother level. But, you know, on top of all that, like I said, she’s a great kid, dynamic scorer, can shoot, can get to the rack, and the biggest part about her game is, she’s a team player, she involves all of her teammates both on and off the court with everything she’s doing.
“It’s one of those things, a lot of people around here in Philly compare Diamond to a Dawn Staley. So I think their game resembles each other. And I think they have a lot in common.”
Growing up in Philadelphia, Peterson said, the connections and comparisons between Johnson and Staley were inevitable. And Staley still creates buzz whenever she goes home — she’s been to Johnson’s high school for open gyms twice in the past month. It’s a buzz that Johnson also generates, Peterson said.
“You know, both being Philly kids, they’re both Philly tough. I mean, Dawn Staley’s the GOAT, we all know that,” Peterson said. “And you know, right now Diamond Johnson is the heart of Philadelphia. She’s the heart of the city. She’s the heart of everything right now, just like when Dawn was going off. ... Dawn, she’s everywhere and she’s known in Philly, like even when she walks in the gym, my kids get really excited to see her walk in the last two times.”
When Johnson officially visited South Carolina in September, the bond between the two again played a role, Peterson said.
“She knows there’s a lot of connection, she knows the background behind Coach Staley and she knows, you know ,the meaning to Philly with her, and I think that she enjoyed it. She had a lot of fun, she came back and was like, Hey, I liked it there,” Peterson said.
Beyond that, Peterson said, Johnson has mostly kept quiet about her recruitment, in keeping with her personality off the court. But if the Gamecocks do land her, they’ll be getting an explosive playmaker — as a junior, she averaged 28.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4 steals a game en route to earning Gatorade Player of the Year honors for Pennsylvania.
“She’s so dynamic and explosive, she’s really tough to guard. Here’s a kid that, she’s tremendous at what she does. And I mean I can’t say enough, like even teams when they go against us, how do you guard her?” Peterson said. “I mean do you stand off her and let her shoot the 3? Or do you go up on her, try to double team her and she still manages to get through it? Her vision, her leadership, and her ability to play basketball, it’s just on a different level.”
Johnson would also mark South Carolina’s third consecutive top-10 point guard commit — sophomore Destanni Henderson and freshman Zia Cooke were ranked No. 6 and No. 4 in their respective classes, making for an extremely talented backcourt that might not have room for a younger player to come in and play right away. But Peterson said she thought Johnson’s top priority wouldn’t necessarily be immediate playing time.
“I do know that a big thing for her is just having a family atmosphere and you know, fitting in. And one thing I will say about Diamond is ... she’s quiet when you first get to know her and then she’ll open up, but her game speaks for itself. She doesn’t do much talking on the court. And I think the thing with her is she wants to surround herself with greatness and she wants to surround herself with people who have the same goal,” Peterson said.