PROVIDENCE – Dan Hurley spent time under the same roof as one of his former high school players Thursday night. In his private moments, the URI head coach was probably thrilled that Sidiki Johnson was sitting on Providence’s bench wearing a sharp black suit rather than basketball attire.
The connection between Hurley and Johnson dates back the 2009-10 season at St. Benedict’s Prep. At the time, Johnson was a junior and had already announced his intentions to play college ball at Arizona, while Hurley was on the verge of capping what was a successful nine-year run at the Newark, N.J. school. Hurley left for Wagner (N.Y.) University in the spring of 2010, a move that coincided with another domino falling – that of Johnson leaving to finish high school elsewhere.
Ultimately, the Harlem, N.Y. native moved on to Oak Hill (Va.) Academy and New York’s Wadleigh High School before continuing the next phase of his hoops journey out west.
“If I had stayed at St. Benedict’s for his senior year, he would have stayed,” Hurley feels. “I think me going to Wagner set the stage to not have that stability and I think another year at St. Benedict’s – in the school and with our program – would have served him well.”
Recalling his dealings with Hurley, Johnson mentioned that the coach spoke to him more about off-the-court matters than about actual basketball.
“(Coach Hurley) made me mentally strong. He told me that a lot of the game is mental and to always be tough and strong,” Johnson offered.
Hurley was arguably the only person on hand at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center who could vividly recall seeing Johnson get after it in a competitive environment. The first opportunity for PC fans to see what Hurley already knows about the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Johnson will come Dec. 18 against Colgate.
“Real rugged rebounder and an aggressive guy around the basket. He really played hard,” was how Hurley remembered Johnson at St. Benedict’s. “He was a highly touted top 50 kid with Arizona and Texas after him hard.”
As Hurley settled into his new post at Wagner, Johnson breezed in and out of Arizona. The latter left the Pac-12 school with four games, nine minutes and two missed field goal attempts on his résumé, one that would eventually include Ed Cooley and the Friars under the section “basketball experience.”
“Everything was good. I just wanted to get closer to home and to a place where my family members could come to games,” said Johnson when asked for his interpretation regarding how he felt everything played out at Arizona. “Everything has been a process, but it’s all going well. I just can’t wait to play basketball.”
Upon officially relocating to PC last January, Cooley opted to keep Johnson on ice from a practice standpoint. Here was a young man who dating back to the beginning of the 2009 season had been in the hallways of three high schools and now two colleges. From Cooley’s vantage point, Johnson needed a chance to catch his breath and get acclimated to his new surroundings without the pressures of basketball hovering over him.
“When you look at guys who transfer, you do your homework,” says Cooley. “Some kids chose a school because of the name or tradition and maybe not understand how that particular school could change their life.”
Continuing, Cooley remarked that Johnson “has come a long way.”
Asked to compare his high school mentor Hurley to his current college coach, Johnson smiled before saying, “Both are real tough on you, making sure you’re staying on top of your game and classroom stuff. Sometimes you need that.”
PC officials clung to the hope that Johnson would have been cleared by the NCAA prior to the conclusion of the first semester, but such a scenario never came to fruition. At a recent practice at Alumni Hall, Johnson was grouped with the Friars’ first string – a telltale sign that Cooley is going to waste little time in throwing his newest big man into the fray.
From afar, Hurley will no doubt be following with interest.
“I think Ed will be really good for him,” said Hurley. “If Ed can’t bring him the stability that he needs, then I’m not sure who can.”