By Joe Henricksen
A couple of Chicago area products made their college decisions official on Friday. Terry Johnson, who starred at North Lawndale a year ago, will make the move from Illinois State to Wisconsin-Green Bay, while up-and-coming Alphonso McKinnie of Marshall will be headed to Eastern Illinois.
UW-Green Bay coach Brian Wardle has earned a glowing reputation around the Chicago area from both his playing days at Hinsdale Central in the late 1990s and from recruiting the area as an assistant coach over the past several years. Now he's making his mark as a head coach -- a first-year head coach who has been on the job for less than a month.
Wardle played a pivotal role in landing Johnson, who will sit out next season as a transfer and have three years of eligibility remaining. Johnson and his family spent the past two days in Green Bay. The comfort level, style of play and the presence of Wardle, along with the respect they had for the young coach, turned out to be the difference in landing Johnson.
Johnson, a 6-0 combo guard who helped lead North Lawndale to Peoria and a third-place finish at state as a senior, spent this past season playing behind a senior-dominated backcourt at Illinois State. After averaging 14 points a game for a North Lawndale powerhouse as a senior in high school and being among the top 15 prospects in Illinois in the Hoops Report's Class of 2009 player rankings, Johnson played in 22 games this past season at ISU, averaging 2 points a game in limited action.
McKinnie, meanwhile, emerged this past season and remained one of the best-kept secrets in the Chicago area. When the season began he was nowhere to be found in the Hoops Report player rankings and an unknown prospect. He began making his mark and opening some eyes in December, beginning with a 21-point performance at Chicago State in a loss to Von Steuben in the CPS Boys Basketball Holiday Showcase.
After a solid and productive senior year, where he averaged over 11 points and nearly 9 rebounds a game, the 6-7 athletic 4-man ended up the year as one of the top 35 prospects in the class. Today he's one of the true sleepers in the class, a late bloomer with untapped potential.
While still raw offensively and needing to gain some weight and strength, McKinnie is long and active. He rebounds, is active around the basket on both ends of the floor and continued to improve his overall skill level over the course of the season.
McKinnie will join a program that has made steady progress over the past few years, improving from seven wins in 2008 to 12 victories in 2009 to winning 19 games this past season. Coach Mike Miller returns the nucleus of this past season's team as he points this program in the right direction and continues to make an impact recruiting the Chicago area over the past couple of years.