Following in the footsteps of his older brother, Cam, UNC Basketball freshman Donovan ‘Puff’ Johnson is looking to make an immediate impact.
For UNC Basketball, family is everything.
It’s more than a slogan. More than a flashy line to throw on t-shirts and billboards. More than a recruiting pitch to lure top-ranked recruits.
It’s a way of a life, a code, an ethos that has persisted across decades and generations of Tar Heels, from Dean Smith to Roy Williams, encompassing all of the players to have step foot on that campus and donned those baby blue uniforms. Lifelong relationships with former players, open seats on the coaching bench for alumni, unending support at the professional level, summer runs with former Heels. The list goes on.
Family is important down in Chapel Hill, which is why moments such as these are so genuine and precious:
It was family that convinced four-star small forward Donovan ‘Puff’ Johnson — the younger brother of Phoenix Suns wing Cameron Johnson, who played at UNC from 2017 to 2019 — that North Carolina was the school for him.
Hailing from Moon Township, Pa., the younger Johnson would be the fifth member of a stacked six-man recruiting class to commit to the Tar Heels, joining Caleb Love, Day’Ron Sharpe, Walker Kessler, RJ Davis, and Kerwin Walton in what would ultimately be the No. 2 class in the nation.
Johnson himself would finish his prep career as the No. 65 recruit according to the 247Sports Composite Ranking, propped up by elite marksmanship and winning records at Moon Area High School (Pa.) and Hillcrest Prep (Ari.).
Puff Johnson shares many similarities with his older brother, naturally so.
Both players are slender forwards — Puff measures in at 6’8”, 190 pounds, with a massive 7’1” wingspan. Both players are heralded for their perimeter shotmaking, with range extending well beyond the NBA three-point line. And both players fit the definition of a Carolina wing snuggly, with their skill sets aligning with what Williams asks of his players.
But Puff isn’t a mirror image of the former All-ACC collegian and NBA lottery pick, which is to be expected.
“When you see Puff, you see his brother, Cameron, which is obviously a very good sign, but Puff is also his own young man and that’s an even better sign,” Roy Williams said in an official announcement on national signing day last November. “He’s a bit of a late bloomer, but … His dad and I believe that, like Cameron, he’s going to work and work and continue to improve in all aspects of his game.”
There are numerous traits and skills that Puff brings to the Tar Heels, ones that are badly needed following a 14-19 campaign that was littered with inopportune injuries, chemistry woes, and anemic perimeter shooting. Johnson will help UNC in the long run, but he may not be an immediate contributor.
While there’s much to like about what the young wing can offer, he’s not a finished product by any means.