James “Deuce” Johnson was back in San Luis Obispo this weekend, and the former Los Angeles area basketball standout said Cal Poly tops the list of his preferred transfer destinations.
Johnson signed with Louisiana Tech coming out of North Hollywood Campbell Hall, where he played alongside NBA star Jrue Holiday and became a regular in Mission Prep’s annual Christmas Classic Tournament.
After one season in Ruston, La. — one that ended with Bulldogs head coach Kerry Rupp being fired — the 6-foot-7, 250-pound sophomore power forward decided to transfer to a school closer to his parents’ home in North Hills.
“I was homesick,” Johnson said. “I guess I wanted to come back home to be a part of my family. I loved the coach, but after he got fired, I was so upset when he had to leave.”
Johnson said he has also been in contact with Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge, three other Southern California Big West Conference programs, but was told none had a scholarship to give.
After the departure of 6-10 sophomore forward Ben Eisenhardt and two other underclass transfers, the Mustangs have one scholarship available for next season, and San Luis Obispo is only a 3-hour drive for his parents.
Johnson said he is looking to stay close to home, but his biggest priority is landing a Division I scholarship. He said he has yet to schedule an official campus visit with another school.
Johnson said he won’t decide on his future until he confers with his father, James Sr., who played college basketball at Miami (Ohio), but if he does get an offer from Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero, the Mustangs would be first in line.
NCAA rules prohibit coaches from commenting on specific recruits before they sign a scholarship agreement, but Callero previously told The Tribune that he was looking for an athletic post player to fill out next season’s roster.
As a Division I transfer, Johnson would have to sit out one season to satisfy NCAA requirements. In his true freshman year at Louisiana Tech, Johnson started four games, played in all but three and shot 46.3 percent from the field. In limited minutes (7.3 per game), he averaged 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds.
Known for his rim-shaking dunks, Johnson averaged 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game as a senior at Campbell Hall. He was twice an all-CIF-Southern Section pick and won state titles with the Vikings as a freshman and sophomore.
Callero’s staff was exposed to Johnson in its first year on campus when he and Campbell Hall played in the Christmas Classic in 2009. Johnson said he was contacted by the Mustangs, but his attention was focused elsewhere.
“I heard Cal Poly, but I tried to go somewhere,” Johnson said. “I was too young. So, I kind of made my first mistake, but it was a good mistake to make because going far away from my parents, it helped me learn how to have a life without having family and all that stuff around. I was on my own.”