STARKVILLE — With a pair of extra scholarships heading into next season, Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Stansbury has added a fourth member to his 2011 class in Alabama native Roquez Johnson.
The 6-foot-6 forward from Carver High School (Montgomery, Ala.) verbally pledged to play for the Bulldogs Wednesday, the Montgomery Advertiser first reported.
Johnson averaged 16 points and a team-leading 13.2 rebounds per game last season, leading Carver to a 33-2 record and a berth in the Class 6A semifinals.
Johnson featured in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game last week and finished with nine points, five rebounds and four blocks.
Johnson can sign a letter of intent on April 13, the first day of the spring signing period.
He didn”t return a message left on his phone Wednesday.
He joins Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year and Meridian swing-man Rodney Hood, point guard Deville Smith and small forward D.J. Gardner in MSU”s 2011 class.
“What he brings to the table is energy,” said Carver coach James Jackson. “He runs the floor well and plays hard under the boards. He also has a 7-2 wingspan. When Alabama and Missouri wanted him, all those teams said the same thing: he”s a great defensive presence.”
The NCAA restricts coaches from commenting on prospects until they sign a national letter of intent.
MSU”s two mid-season defections, Twany Beckham (Kentucky) and Elgin Bailey (Southeast Louisiana) created two roster voids, and Stansbury could fill the final scholarship slot this off-season.
Jackson said Johnson chose the Bulldogs because they were recruiting him consistently through his multiple attempts to gain a sufficient ACT score.
Alabama, Missouri and Murray State were among other schools recruiting Johnson, Jackson said.
Jackson says Johnson”s inconsistent jump-shot held back his recruitment because 6-foot-6 athletes are common; a jumper sets you apart. His skill-set, in Jackson”s eyes, describes a multi-purpose player who can affect the game on the defensive end.
Think former Alabama star and NBA player Gerald Wallace, Jackson said.
“This is nothing negative about Roquez or Gerald, but Wallace couldn”t hit the side of a barn when he got to Alabama,” Jackson explained. “Roquez is a little bit the same way in that you wouldn”t want him to take that last jump shot of the game, but rather, drive it to the basket because he”s so strong and can attack the basket.
“He”s fun to watch on the break.”
Jackson”s commitment gives the Bulldogs a young but deep group of athletic wing players with Hood and Gardner, who are 6-7 and 6-6 respectively.
The Bulldogs also were uncharacteristically poor on defense, where they gave up a Southeastern Conference-worst 70.2 points per game. Usually a league leader in defense and rebounding, the Bulldogs ranked just ninth in the league with 36.8 rebounds per game.
Johnson can come in and make an immediate impact on the boards and be an inside-out defender, Jackson said.
“You watch them without (Jarvis) Varnado and that group, and they just didn”t get up and down the court the same or rebound as well,” Jackson said. “At some point in time, you”re gonna want to run and press and do some different things to offset the game. You”re gonna have to have some kids who can flat-out get up and down the court.”
Johnson is an unrated prospect according to Scout.com. ESPN.com gave Johnson a two-star rating.
He”s probably known more for his role in an on-court brawl during a regional tournament in 2009, which resulted in 11 players being charged with assault, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
The brawl, which saw fans spill onto the court and become involved, started when a Valley High player pushed Johnson in the back before another swung an elbow at his face when he fell forward onto him after the initial push.
Johnson, then a sophomore, retaliated by throwing a flurry of punches at the player who pushed him, which set-off the national headline-grabbing brawl.
“When it happened, he really felt like he blew it,” Jackson said. “I felt bad for him because it was a deal where he retaliated and it got big with people coming out the stands.
“This kid made a pact with himself that he was gonna make it right. That”s all he”s ever talked about.”
After a year of controversy surrounding player suspensions and a public fist-fight between Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey, MSU head coach Rick Stansbury did extra homework in making sure Johnson was a character fit for the Bulldogs, Jackson said.
“He was really adamant about that and how they”re trying to promote themselves,” Jackson said. “He spoke with a lot of coaches he respects to find out what they thought about his character. It really taught me a valuable lesson because we look at what these kids do on the court but overlook what they”re about.
“Roquez learned a hard lesson, but it”s made him a better player and a better person.”