Rick Pitino didn't plan on hiring a recruiter for his assistant coaching vacancy, but advice from an old friend changed his perception. UofL officially hired Kenny Johnson, one of the top recruiters in the nation, Wednesday.
After Pitino lost assistant head coach Kevin Keatts to a head coaching job, he told local media he'd like to hire an older coach who can teach the game to his young team next season. He all but told the media that he was targeting former assistant Ralph Willard.
But Pitino's plans changed when he spoke with Willard.
"Ralph told me that I should go get a recruiter," Pitino said. Pitino explained that Willard, who is working with the Oklahoma City Thunder, told him that Louisville needed a recruiter to replace Keatts.
"The first thing I did when Kevin Keatts left to become the head coach at UNC Wilmington was to ask my son Richard (Pitino, head coach at Minnesota) to find the best rising assistant coach in the business," Pitino said. "He spoke to a lot of people and they led directly to Kenny Johnson and others think he is outstanding as well."
Johnson, an elite recruiter who was on staff at Indiana, became Pitino's focus. Pitino landed Johnson and the Cardinals' new assistant coach was introduced to the media Wednesday.
"We're very excited to have Kenny in our program," Pitino said. "... He is extremely bright, having studied cell, molecular biology and genetics in college."
Johnson attended Oxon Hill (Md.) High School where his playing career was cut short due to an injury in his second year of varsity basketball. With basketball out, Johnson focused on academics and was named Science and Technology Student of the Year in 2004. He earned his bachelor's degree in cell, molecular biology and genetics in 1999 at the University of Maryland, where he was a Benjamin Banneker Scholarship recipient. He worked as a protein chemist/molecular biologist at Human Genome Sciences in Rockville, Md. after graduation.
Johnson said his wife, Doreen, gave him a vote of confidence to change careers, pursuing basketball full time.
"I knew that my passion was to help young men get college scholarships," Johnson said.
Johnson began his coaching career in 2002 as the associate head coach at Eleanor Roosevelt High School before moving to Dr. Henry Wise High School in 2006 for one year (2006-07). He was associate head coach at Paul IV High school for four years (2007-11) before advancing to the collegiate ranks.
Johnson served six years as assistant director and head of travel and logistics for the TeamTakeover AAU program and was the head coach of its 16 and under age group during that stint. The program produced a total of 53 Division I scholarship players during his stint there. His travel team tournament championships include the prestigious King James Classic (2009, 2010) and the Orlando National Super Showcase (2009).
In addition to his years as a camp coach at Eastern Invitational and Reebok Headliner Camp, Johnson was a guest clinician at the New England Basketball Coaching Clinic at Reebok Headquarters. He has also served as a camp and tournament director, beginning with the first Annual National High School Hoop Festival in 2007 and the first Annual DMV Basketball Coaching Clinic in 2008.
From there, Johnson took an assistant coaching spot at Towson University and then advanced to Indiana after one season. While at Indiana, Johnson helped the Hoosiers assemble top 20 recruiting classes each of the past two seasons, including a top five class in 2013.
Johnson, who said he is grateful to Pitino for the opportunity, said he will jump right into the fray this weekend.
"Well, we have a recruiting period this weekend so for me it will diving right in to Louisville basketball," Johnson said. "We'll figure out all the paperwork and changeover... my kids will finish school, but I'll get right to it."