After transferring to UNC from Pitt following Jamie Dixon's ouster, Cameron Johnson was expected to make an immediate impact in Chapel Hill last season as a graduate transfer -- and he did.
The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 12.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game and imprinted his mark on Roy Williams' veteran-laden squad that went on to win 26 games. Yet injuries that required surgery -- first on his knee, then on his hip -- hampered a potential star turn in his first season with the program. After recovering from the surgeries, however, Johnson is now turning that corner as UNC's No. 1 scorer and second-leading rebounder, and has emerged as an unsuspecting All-America candidate.
"I had the knee surgery early last year that kind of derailed the nonconference portion of the season for me, and then following the season I had surgery on my hip,"in an appearance on 'Reiter's Block' on Monday. "That had been an issue that had been bothering me for a long time, so to get that corrected is very relieving. To be able to go out on the court and have hips that feel better, be able to move a little better, and be able to show I didn't lose much -- I gained -- that's a big emphasis for me this year."
Johnson is averaging a career-high 16.4 points per game this season for the Tar Heels, emerging as their No. 1 offensive option despite preseason All-America buzz for his teammate, Luke Maye, and more buzz about the impact of potential future lottery pick Nassir Little. He said he's finally feeling good and still thinks he has room to grow as he readies for conference play in his final college season.
"I feel great," he said. "This is probably the best I've ever felt just in terms of my hips. I think I have room to get better, I think I can keep getting stronger ... I'm pretty excited about it."
Johnson and the Tar Heels are 6-1 and ranked No. 11 in the latest AP poll, and again are a dark horse candidate -- behind Duke and Virginia -- to challenge for the ACC regular-season crown. Behind Johnson's unexpected breakout year, perhaps it's fair to consider dropping the dark horse label altogether. These Tar Heels, and this senior, are the real deal.
"I think we have a pretty high ceiling," Johnson said.