West Xtra: OLSH grad uses summer league to prepare for Pitt career

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With his team locked in a tie game at the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am Summer League, Cameron Johnson went about his work.

An Our Lady of the Sacred Heart graduate, this Pitt freshman-to-be had the ball near midcourt, staring down his defender -- Panthers teammate Joshua Ko -- with each movement. Gradually, Johnson steadily proceeded forward, alternating hands with each dribble until he got to the 3-point line, where he quickly picked the ball up and, with Ko lunging at him, calmly rattled home a shot.

In no more than a handful of months, such a situation would be drastically different.

Instead of backing down a 6-foot-1, 150-pound walk-on from Hawaii in the first half of a summer exhibition game, Johnson will be trying it against an Atlantic Coast Conference defender in a game of much greater consequence while representing a team trying to get to the NCAA tournament for the 13th time in 14 seasons.

Short of guessing, it's impossible to predict how he will fare in such a moment. But, for the time being, his prospects look bright.

Not even a few months removed from graduating high school, Johnson has used this summer as a launching point, displaying the kind of skill and production that could make him a contributor for the Panthers in his first season of college basketball.

Johnson averaged 19.6 points per game while making 53.8 percent of his shots in seven games at the pro-am this summer, the kind of numbers that earned him the league's newcomer of the year honor.

"I'd say the summer as a whole has gone pretty well," he said. "I expected it to go well and it's lived up to those expectations. I expected to get used to the system a little bit at Pitt, playing against some older guys and getting experience."

This summer success has represented the most recent step in what has been a whirlwind year for Johnson.

After playing point guard for much of his career, he grew 5 inches from the end of his junior season to the beginning of his senior season to reach his current 6-foot-7 stature. That growth spurt forced Johnson -- whose father, Gil, played at Pitt from 1988-90 -- to develop a post game to complement his guard skills. That's not saying it didn't come without inherent positives.

"Height has its advantages," he said. "It allows me to get my shot off easier, take smaller guys to the post and things like that. It's definitely helped me."

His newfound frame allowed Johnson to have an explosive senior season, one in which he increased his scoring by 10 points per game to 26.9, the second-highest mark of any WPIAL player.

After holding offers from the likes of Bryant, Marist and Toledo, bigger college programs took notice, a change that culminated when Johnson verbally committed to Pitt in late April.

Since arriving on campus, Johnson has worked hard on not only his game, but also one of the few downsides to his spike in height -- filling out a body that was barely taller than 6 feet about one year ago.

Johnson said he has gained 15 pounds since the end of his high school season, a gain that has partially been spurred by a more stringent weight-lifting routine.

"It was definitely an adjustment," he said. "This is my 11th week, I think, so I'm getting used to it."

Following his standout performance this summer, questions naturally shift to Johnson's debut college season and how he fits into Pitt's plans in its second year in the ACC. Though Johnson said that the coaches haven't given him an exact idea of what his role will be, he said he expects to play primarily at the shooting guard spot, as well as at small forward.

One thing is for certain, though -- Johnson is ready for what awaits, the kind of challenges that extend far beyond sinking 3-pointers in a summer league.

"It'll be fun," he said, smiling. "It'll be fun for sure."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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