Darin Graham will never forget the first time he had a chance to coach Johnny Juzang. It was the summer of 2015, and the Compton Magic AAU squad was playing a tournament in Canada. Etop Udo-Ema, the famed director of the Magic, told Graham prior to the team’s departure that Juzang would be joining the team for the tournament.
At the time Juzang was only in eighth grade, but already regarded as one of the top players in his age-group, player known for his smooth offensive game and ability to hit deep jump shots. And when he showed up at the gym, he left a memorable impression on Graham, who remains his coach with the Magic to this day.
“He’s like ‘Coach, call me Silky,’” Graham, who also goes by ‘Coach DG,’ said last week with a laugh, remembering back to that first meeting four years ago. “To this day, I’ll call him ‘Silk’ here and there.”
It was a memorable introduction to a player who has lived up to the nickname over the last four years, as a scoring wing and one of the most complete offensive players in all of high school basketball. In the process, Juzang has evolved into a consensus five-star prospect in the class of 2020, and a player that just about every college basketball program in America would love to get to their campus. Juzang holds offers from the likes of Kansas, Virginia, USC and UCLA (the offer came under the previous staff led by Steve Alford), with Villanova connecting last week to express interest. Most recently, Juzang was offered by Kentucky, when John Calipari and assistant Joel Justus were in California last week. Early reports are that the Wildcats are open to adding Juzang in his original class of 2020, or 2019 if he chooses to reclassify.
— Compton Magic (@Compton_Magic) April 19, 2019
Regardless of where Juzang plays his college basketball and when, some program will get much more than just that “silky” smooth scorer that Juzang sold himself as all those years ago. While Graham said that Juzang continues to score at will (with the ability to do so at all three levels), what has impressed him the most as a coach is how his game has continued to grow and round out.
The kid who was once known as a deadly three-point shooter is now a much more complete player.
“I really love how he’s stepped it up on the defensive end,” Graham said. “His ball-handling [has improved]. He’ll get in there and rebound. And he continues to work on his body.”
In terms of the “why” behind Juzang’s evolution, Graham sees a number of different factors which have played a role in his growth as a basketball player. Graham credits the culture of competition within the Compton Magic program – a program which has produced hundreds of Division I college players through the years, including current NBA guys like T.J. Leaf and Allen Crabbe. He credits Juzang’s parents and family, which includes older brother Christian, a guard who just completed his junior year at Harvard. And he credits Juzang himself for putting in the work to get better.
According to Graham, Juzang’s best attribute might be that – in a world where too many young players think they know it all – he remains incredibly coachable.
“What I do like, from eighth grade to now is that when he gets constructive criticism, he works on that,” Graham said. “You can tell him, ‘Hey man, you need to work on this.’ He’s done it. You can see the evolution. From eighth grade to now, he’s in the 11th grade, he’s added something to his game every single year.”
As for what’s next, it seems a little early to say exactly where Juzang’s recruitment stands. He did take an official visit to Virginia last fall, and has long been linked to USC, where Eric Mobley – the father of two of his AAU teammates – serves as an assistant coach. There were also early rumblings about UCLA, but it’s hard to know where things stand with the new coaching staff in place.
Still, one thing that Graham did harp on throughout the interview was that Juzang is open to play just about anywhere in the country, and he doesn’t want people to assume that just because he’s from California he is only willing to play on the West Coast. The California schools are obviously an option, but ultimately Graham says that Juzang wants to go “where it’s competitive, and he wants an opportunity to show what he can do on that big stage.”
That’s good news for Kentucky, and if Juzang were to one day choose the Wildcats, another thing working in their favor is that there literally might not be a better AAU program in America to prepare Juzang for life in Lexington than the Compton Magic. The Magic are a loaded AAU squad which blistered through their schedule last summer going 46-2 overall, claiming a national championship by beating the top Adidas and Nike programs from across the country, with a roster stacked with future college and NBA stars. The 2019 class featured McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Mobley and Top 30 prospect Onyeka Okongwu who are both headed to USC, as well as Jarod Lucas (headed to Oregon State) who is one of the all-time leading scorers in California high school history. The 2020 class includes Evan Mobley, the consensus No. 1 overall player in the class, who is the early front-runner to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Not to mention Juzang, another Top 20 prospect nationally.
Point being, Juzang is used to playing with other elite players. And it wouldn’t be anything new if he enrolled at a school like Kentucky where he’d be surrounded by future stars.
“Being that he’s been with all these top guys, if he goes to a Kentucky or a Duke or a wherever, it’s perfect,” Graham said. “He’s battle-tested. He knows what it is. He’s not going to go in there saying ‘I need 30 shots a game.’”
And with that, the last big questioning remaining is which class Juzang will play college basketball as a member of. Graham was hesitant to speculate about a potential reclassification for Juzang, simply stating that Juzang and his parents will come to a decision on the topic in the coming months. All Graham would add was that if Juzang did want to move to 2019, “all his options are open.”
Regardless of what he does though, and where he ends up, Graham knows one thing for sure: As good as Juzang has been, the best is yet to come.
“There’s no ceiling on this kid yet,” Graham said. “He hasn’t reached the ceiling. He isn’t close. I’m excited to see what the next summer brings. And the next summer.”
“His IQ is off the chains. When you match that IQ with how hard he works, he can be an incredible guy.”