LITTLE ROCK — After crafting a stellar 17-year career in the NBA that has not yet concluded with an official retirement, former Arkansas great Joe Johnson has recently endeavored to enhance the basketball future in Arkansas by bringing in some of the state’s top high school talent to workout, mentor, model work ethic, and provide guidance for their next ventures in the game of basketball.
Johnson — a.k.a “Iso Joe” because of his big-shot, late-game heroics in the NBA spanning much of the last decade-plus — turns 40 next month and last played in the League with the Houston Rockets in 2018. If that turns out to be his final stop playing in the NBA, Johnson put his stamp on the game with 7 all-star selections, 1 all pro season, a 20,405-point career scoring mark that ranks No. 48 all time in the NBA, and a Naismith Hall of Fame-worthy feat of reaching the career 20,000-points, 5,000-rebounds, and 5,000-assists club that only 13 other players — all current or sure-fire first-ballot HOFers — managed to accomplish in the history of the NBA.
It’s a professional legacy that began as the 10th overall pick in the first round of the 2001 NBA Draft following an amateur career at Little Rock Central where Johnson helped win a state title preceding two seasons (1999-2001) starring at Arkansas toward the end of Naismith Hall of Fame coach Nolan Richardson’s historic career leading the Razorbacks men’s basketball program.
Johnson is still primed to take part in national events such as the Big 3 (he won a championship in Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 league a couple of years ago) and The Tournament (a 5-on-5 annual event that pays the winning team $1,000,000), as well as the local Dunbar Recreation Summer League in Little Rock, but his latest project is aimed beyond his own on-court achievement as Johnson has started down a path of development of homegrown basketball talent.
He’s operating and renovating the old Oak Grove High School gymnasium in North Little Rock as just the beginning of a larger vision — Iso Grind Academy — planned for giving back to the up-and-coming stars learning the game in his home state, and it’s where this past weekend Johnson could be found on the court working out with and mentoring two of the state’s best high school talents and Razorbacks recruiting targets — 2022 Derrian Ford (6-4 combo guard, Magnolia, national No. 39 / 4-star prospect according to 247Sports.com) and 2023 Bryson Warren (6-2 point guard, Little Rock Central, national No. 32 / 4-star prospect according to 247Sports.com).
“We’re still figuring out what all this can be,” said Johnson, who’s also sponsoring a couple of independent grassroots basketball squads in 14U and 13U Team Iso. “We want to keep our best talent in Arkansas to train, develop, and stay home (to play both high school and spring/summer grassroots basketball). That’s the first goal.”
Ford, who recently left 17U Houston Hoops to join Arkansas-based 17U Next Page Force, was on the court with Johnson on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
“Working out with Joe has been a great experience,” said Ford, who holds more than 30 Division 1 scholarship offers. “I’m learning things every day. I feel as if I’ve picked up so much information that can help me get to the next level that I need to as of right now. I just know later on down the line … I’ll be able to get more work in with him, and I’ll just learn more about the game. And hopefully, this will just be a great experience.”
Warren — he holds multiple high-major offers with Duke inquiring over the weekend — had his workout with Johnson on Sunday.
“It’s really special coming in with an NBA great,” Warren said. “It’s awesome all the stuff I can learn from him. We can maybe learn from each other, but just to be able to push each other is really awesome.”
Linked are highlights and interviews from Ford’s and Warren’s weekend Iso Grind Academy workouts with Johnson …
* Hoop Hogs have multiple prospect visit dates set for first week of June, and at least two more set for later in the month: It’s been over a year since recruits could make on-campus visits due to the covid-19 pandemic, and with the NCAA’s mandated recruiting dead period being lifted at the end of May, the Arkansas Razorbacks are set to host several highly regarded prospects beginning the first day of June. Here a few already planned for the month of June…
— 2022 Derrian Ford (6-4 combo guard, Magnolia, national No. 39 / 4-star prospect according to 247Sports.com) will take an official visit to Arkansas on June 1-3.
— 2022 Kel’el Ware (7-0 forward / center, North Little Rock, composite national No. 30 / 4-star prospect) will take an unofficial visit to Arkansas on June 1.
— 2022 Barry Dunning (6-6 small forward / wing, McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile, Ala., composite national No. 44 / 4-star prospect) will take an official visit to Arkansas on June 3-5.
— 2023 Layden Blocker (6-2 point guard, Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas, Little Rock native, national No. 57 / 4-star prospect according to 247Sports.com) will take an unofficial visit to Arkansas on June 5.
— 2022 Ramel Lloyd, Jr. (6-6 combo guard, Sierra Canyon in California, composite national No. 67 / 4-star prospect) will take an official visit to Arkansas on June 22-25.
— 2022 Kijani Wright (6-9 forward, Windward School in California, composite national No. 11 / 5-star prospect) will take an official visit to Arkansas on June 27-29.
“I’m excited,” Ford said about his upcoming visit to Fayetteville. “Me and my family are very excited. The first time I went down there was an unofficial visit (summer of 2019), and I had a blast so I know this official visit is going to be even more of a blast. We’ll probably stay down there a few days, and I’m just looking forward to building a relationship with the coaches (in person) more instead of virtually, because I’ve been doing a lot of zoom meetings. I’m just ready to get to Fayetteville.”
Ford and Ware — the duo played together briefly roughly a year ago as part of the Team Thad grassroots organization in Memphis — will have their Arkansas visits coincide on Tuesday, June 1.
“He’s a great player,” Ford said of Ware. “He’s killing it this summer and I wish nothing but the best for him.”
* Find your way to Fayetteville: This upcoming weekend is when the 2021-22 Arkansas Razorbacks will begin returning to campus for the start of the two summer school sessions, and that includes move-in plans for the Hogs’ 5-player (so far) recruiting class of 2021 — freshman Chance Moore, junior-transfer Au’Diese Toney, senior-transfer Chris Lykes, senior-transfer Stanley Umude, and freshman-transfer Jaxson Robinson. A source told Hogville.net that Moore is “a week or so behind” some of the others in terms of when he’ll arrive on campus.
* Class of 2022 hooper reports Arkansas offer: Versatile senior-to-be Anthony Black (6-7 combo guard, Coppell, Texas, composite national No. 60 / 4-star prospect) reported his Hog scholarship offer via Twitter on Friday. Black also reported weekend offers from Minnesota and Creighton to go with his previous offers from Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Illinois, Iowa State, and others.
* Portal prospect still in the mix for Hogs: Eastern Illinois senior-transfer Marvin Johnson (6-6 guard, first team All Ohio Valley Conference in ’20-21 after averaging 15.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.9 steals) remains a recruiting target for Arkansas, according to sources, as he has the Hogs in his final 4 list of schools that includes Mississippi State, New Mexico State, and Drake.
* From the ICYMI files: Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman spoke by phone on Thursday with 2024 Dallas Thomas (6-7 guard / wing, Little Rock Parkview, 15U Brad Beal Elite), and during their conversation the Head Hog offered a scholarship to the rising star from central Arkansas. Details with quotes from Thomas and Patriots head coach / Razorbacks icon Scotty Thurman, as well as highlights of Thomas, can be found in the linked Hogville.net article published on May 13 … https://forums.hogville.net/index.php?topic=729504.0