By Jeremy Balan
There were hints that the two best players in San Francisco high school basketball would go to the same college to extend their playing careers.
In conversation, Joshua Fox and Taylor Johns, the seniors that led Sacred Heart Cathedral to the Division III state championship game, would say things like, “we haven’t made a decision yet.”
The hints ended up being based in fact, and after a visit to UC Riverside over the weekend, the pair has verbally committed to play for the Highlanders. They will likely sign letters of intent on Wednesday or when they return from spring break early next week.
“It was important [that we went together], because we want to play together,” said Johns, a 6-foot-6 forward. “We have a good chemistry, played AAU together and played together in high school since we were sophomores. We’re like brothers.”
The two friends are happy to be playing with each other at the next level, but Fox stressed that it wasn’t a priority unless it was the right fit. Louisiana-Monroe was also interested in the pair as a package deal, but Fox received interest alone from Columbia and Cornell, while Johns had interest from Portland and Sacramento State.
“We loved the opportunity schools gave us to play together, because we love to play together,” said Fox, a 6-foot-5 forward in high school that figures to be a wing player in college. “We didn’t jump into the decision and we like the school for the right reasons.”
The Highlanders went 14-17 last season and 7-9 in Big West Conference play, but only return four scholarship players. The Big West will add Hawaii in basketball next season and San Diego State the following year, and that increased competition added to the allure for Johns and Fox, but both players wanted to be involved with building the program as a part of a crucial incoming freshman class.
The idea of getting early playing time didn’t hurt either.
“That was one of the biggest things, getting early playing time and making an impact on the program,” Fox said. “We don’t want to go to college to sit on the bench.”
Both also credited the UC Riverside coaching staff and head coach Jim Wooldridge as factors in their decision and Fox even compared the Highlanders’ staff to his high school coaches. Wooldridge also impressed Sacred Heart head coach Darrell Barbour when he showed up to watch the Irish practice twice in San Francisco.
“We loved the campus, and the coaches, they have our back,” Johns said.
Johns, who was considered a more-desirable player by recruiters, has already had to go through a process of calling coaches to inform them he will not be going to their school, an uncomfortable but necessary process.
“It was fun to feel like you’re wanted, but the hardest part was calling the other coaches and saying I wasn’t going there,” Johns said. “I had to be a man and just tell them.”
That was just the first step in becoming a college basketball player for Johns, but Barbour has advised both on what to expect at the next level, where production on the court and in the classroom is paramount.
“The honeymoon is over,” Barbour said. “Now your job is to go there and be successful as a basketball player. It’s a business deal and it’s a tradeoff. They want you to perform as a student athlete and you get your education paid for. Not a lot of people get that opportunity.”