Coaches Swarm to Watch Oakland Soldiers

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, a Who’s Who of college  coaches assembled in Gym 1 here at the Riverview Park Activities Center to watch the Oakland Soldiers 17U AAU team.

Sitting courtside were Roy Williams (North Carolina), Bill Self (Kansas), Gary Williams (Maryland), Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech), Ben Howland (UCLA), Fran McCaffery (Iowa), Craig Robinson (Oregon State), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Tony Barbee (Auburn), John Beilein (Michigan), Jeff Capel (Oklahoma), Kevin O’Neill (USC), Mike Montgomery (Cal) and Dana Altman (Oregon), among others.

“It’s pretty good,” said Nick Johnson, a senior guard with the Soldiers and Findlay (Nev.) Prep. “Just coming from LeBron [James Skills Academy], that was the big stage. All of them were there so I kind of got used to it. It takes some getting used to, but I think I’m used to it now.”

The Soldiers are sponsored by Drew Gooden and are one of the hottest AAU teams on the summer circuit.

When I asked one assistant coach who he was looking at, he joked, “The entire Solider starting 5.”

That would be the 6-3 Johnson, 6-3 guard Josiah Turner, 6-4 wing Jabari Brown and 6-9 bigs Kyle Wiltjer and Brandon Ashley (2012).

Those five combined to score 68 of Oakland’s points in an 83-66 rout of Alabama Challenge. Brown poured in 23 points, Turner had 17 and Johnson 15.

Johnson, a tremendous playmaker and defender, said he is considering Arizona,  Arizona State, St. John’s, UConn, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Louisville.

A Phoenix native whose mother still lives there, Johnson is seriously considering Arizona.

“U of A has definitely been on me the hardest,” he said.

He plans to cut his list later this summer.

“After this tournament, I’m going to narrow it down,” Johnson said.

Turner shot 6 of 8 from the field and was a perfect 5 of 5 from the line.

He listed Kansas, Wake Forest, UConn, Oregon and Arizona as the schools “coming the hardest.”

“There’s a lot of schools coming out hard now,” Turner said. “Duke called [Sunday] night. They said they need a guard to come in after Kyrie [Irving]. They think he’s going to be one-and-done so they’re trying to find a guard to come in.”

The 6-4 Brown was 7 of 13 from the field, hitting 2 of 3 from beyond the arc.

He listed UConn, Oregon State, Washington State, Washington, Kansas, Cal, Maryland, Wake Forest, Georgetown, Arizona State, Stanford and Georgia Tech.

“I’m still pretty open, trying to win this tournament and then after that sit down and think about it,” Brown said.

In the meantime, expect the army of college coaches to follow the Soldiers wherever they go.

“It’s definitely a good thing because we’re all trying to find the right school and go to a school where we can eventually go to the NBA after hopefully,” Brown said. “It’s fun playing in front of all these coaches against the best competition.”

(Photo courtesy Oakland Soldiers)

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