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Judge's Nahseer Johnson taking scoring and versatility to Arcadia

06/21/2021, 11:30am EDT
By Christy Selagy

Christy Selagy (@ChristySelagy)

Coming into Father Judge as a freshman, Nahseer Johnson wanted to do something only one other basketball player had done at the Northeast Philly high school, something that had happened less than a year earlier.

Nahseer Johnson dribbles a basketball

After becoming the second Crusader to score 1,000 points, Nahseer Johnson (above) will spend his college years at Arcadia. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Marc Rodriguez made history as the Crusaders’ first 1,000 point scorer during the 2016-17 season. When Johnson joined the program the following year, he decided he would add his name to that short list.

That’s not to say it was easy or guarenteed—sure, he was a three-year starter, but he had a position change his junior year and a pandemic-shortened senior season. Former head coach Sean Tait could tell Johnson had a lot of potential as soon as he got to Judge and that evolved into a starting role his sophomore year.

Johnson spent a lot of time in the weight room that summer, working on getting bigger and stronger. Then, something changed. The Crusaders’ point guard, Adain Dooley, suffered an injury that shoved Johnson into the position his junior season.

“I played off the ball my first two years at Father Judge,” Johnson said. “I played on the ball [in] CYO, so it wasn’t like a big transition for me. I just had the same mindset, really. I just had to get my teammates in the game a little more than usual.”

Playing any position in the Catholic League is tough, let alone a position you haven’t played recently. Still, Johnson held his own and earned a spot on the All-Catholic League Third Team.

It’s a notable accomplishment for anybody, but especially for a guy who was playing out of position and was accustomed to scoring first and foremost.

“He really worked on his decision making, his ball handling skills, because early on in his career, he was just a scorer, a slasher,” Tait said. “He could shoot it, get to the rim, but he really refined his game and worked hard over the last couple years to kind of be that point guard for us that really he wasn’t slated to be. … I mean, the guys he was going against, night in and night out, in that slot against other point guards in our league, it’s not an easy feat. He did a bang up job kinda being forced into that position with the injuries we had.”

Judge’s 2019-20 season ended before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the playoffs, but, of course, it still affected Johnson. Restrictions and closures made recruiting a lot tougher and, thanks to the NCAA’s blanket waiver, scholarships were hard to come by, given the uncertainty of college rosters.

If that weighed on his mind during his senior season, it certainly didn’t affect his game. Johnson led the Crusaders in points (18.7), rebounds (5.1), assists (3.3), and steals (2.3) per game en route to All-Catholic League Second Team honors.

And in the final game of his high school career, Johnson achieved a feat four years in the making. He became the second Crusader to score 1,000 points.

“That was one of my goals coming into high school. I’m not going to say I knew I was doing it, but I really thought that I could do it,” Johnson said. “When it happened, it was a surreal feeling. … [Even with the shortened season] I thought I was going to get it. Sometimes I would worry.”

Nahseer Johnson dribbles a basketball while another player guards him

Johnson (above, on the left) picked Arcadia over D-II schools because of the campus and facilities. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The end of the season brought about another impactful moment; March was when Division III Arcadia entered the recruiting picture. Prior to that, Johnson was deciding whether to go to D-II Holy Family or Lock Haven.

It was late in his recruiting process, but he decided to visit the Glenside (Pa.) campus anyway. The athletics facilities and large campus stood out to him, and he knew he’d found his home for the next four years. As an added bonus, his longtime friend and Catholic League rival Dom Vazquez was getting ready to commit to Arcadia around the same time. Johnson (and Vazquez) committed to the Knights in April.

“I think Nahseer is a Division II-level player, so Arcadia got a good one,” Tait said. “I think this is going to be a perfect fit for him. He’s going to have another all-time career at Arcadia like he did at Father Judge.”

Johnson will be joining an Arcadia squad that’s had a strong presence the last few seasons. In 2019-20, his first season at the helm, head coach Adam Van Zelst led the Knights to a 16-11 record and the MAC Commonwealth championship game, ending the season four points shy of winning back-to-back championships. Arcadia moved to the MAC Freedom for the 2021 season, finishing with a 7-4 record, good for third place. There wasn’t a traditional conference championship tournament, but the Knights did defeat MAC Commonwealth No. 3 seed Alvernia in the MAC Crossover Challenge to end the season.

Arcadia has quite a few Philly-area players in its incoming class; Bensalem’s James Ashford IV as well as Boyertown products Tre Diguglielmo and David Leh will join Johnson and Vasquez on the roster.

Although the Knights will be without top scorer Da’Kquan Davis, who’s headed to D-I North Texas next season, they’ll have a pair of All-MAC Freedom Second-Team players in Justin Money and Jalen Watkins. Johnson is hoping that the mix of new and returning talent will bode well for his first big collegiate goal—win a championship his first year.

Tait thinks Johnson can make an immediate impact, particularly because of his versatility from being thrown into the point guard role. But, for Johnson, preparation for college ball doesn’t have to do with positions. It’s something broader.

“I think just playing for Coach Tait helps me in college, regardless [of position],” Johnson said. “The way he told me how to play, I can play on the ball or without the ball. He just taught me a lot. I think he really got me ready for the next level.

“Arcadia gets up and down the floor. They’re a run and gun team, so I think I'm going to fit well in that system.”

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