By Joe Henricksen
The University of Illinois basketball program will open its doors to one of the nation's best young talents on Saturday when Johnnie Vassar visits campus.
Vassar, a 6-0 freshman point guard and Chicago native who attends highly-regarded Lawrence Academy in Groton (Mass.), is considered by many to be one of the top players nationally in the Class of 2014. Superlatives like "special" and "unique" have been thrown around when it comes to describing Vassar's talents by those who have watched him play and character by those who know him. Vassar is considered to be an explosive lefty point guard with great athleticism and tools that give him star potential.
"People talk about my defense a lot too," Vassar was quick to tell the Hoops Report, which is something that doesn't come out of the mouth of too many young players today.
What is also "special" and "unique" about Vassar is that when talking with him it's easy to think you're having a conversation with a freshman in college rather than a freshman in high school. He's extremely sharp, respectful, goal-driven and mature for his age, qualities that shine through pretty easily and show the job his mother, Cherise Vassar, has done in raising him.
The idea of a prospect like Vassar on campus, with his talent, coming-of-age and character, will certainly excite coach Bruce Weber and the Illinois coaching staff. Vassar will be a huge recruiting priority for the Illinois staff going forward. With assistant coach Jerrance Howard leading the charge, Illinois was one of the first high-major programs on Vassar and will be the first to get a visit. Again, the recruiting aggressiveness by Illinois continues as Howard spent time at Lawrence Academy earlier this week and has placed an importance on building a relationship with Vassar and his family.
"This will be my first visit," says Vassar, whose family has also gotten to know Simeon sophomore Jabari Parker and his family in recent years. "I'm looking forward to the visit, seeing the school, visiting with the coaches. Coach Howard has been great. It should be fun. I'm familiar with Illinois. I followed their program and watched them a lot when Dee Brown and Deron Williams played there, and I really like Deron Williams as a player. I've also learned how strong Illinois is academically from my cousin who goes to school at Illinois right now."
Vassar and his family are originally from Chicago and his mother and family still reside there.
"We live in Chicago, but I have been going to school at Lawrence Academy," says Vassar, who is home visiting for the weekend and has been attending a respected, high-academic boarding school for several years. "This gives me a chance to check out Illinois."
Vassar has Team USA Development Team experience and plays on the club circuit with BABC, which recently won the Hall of Fame New England Championship and reached the title game of the Nike Boo Williams Invitational earlier this spring. Vassar opened eyes at Boo Williams while playing with BABC's 15-and-under team.