Wednesday’s “Eye on the Ball” radio show on KVOI (1030-AM) featured former Arizona All-American basketball player Nick Johnson, who on Sunday ran the first marathon of his life — with only two-days notice — as a way to honor a fallen Navy SEAL.
Johnson is back at home in the Phoenix area. He was near completion of his sixth professional season, this time at Turkey, when the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short. He earned the Pac-12 Player of the Year and All-American honors as a junior at Arizona in 2013-14 before turning pro.
Of his impromptu marathon in Chandler and the surrounding area Sunday, Johnson said, “It was a little rough but it’s definitely something I want to do again, honestly. It’s a lot mental. It definitely got my mind sharper, I would say.”
Johnson told co-hosts Jay Gonzales and Steve Rivera he wants to do it again to “see how much faster I can get.”
“I want to get somewhere in the 4-hour mark — I ended up getting 4:53,” he added. “I really wasn’t gassed at the end. I wasn’t breathing hard at any point. It was just so more my body. It got to the point to where I was like, let’s just finish as fast as I can and hopefully next time I will get closer to my goal.”
Johnson also discussed how he has kept tabs on Sean Miller’s program, his popularity in Tucson, the struggles against Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, Brandon Ashley’s devastating foot injury when Arizona was 22-0 in 2013-14, and what advice he would give foreign players coming to Arizona now that he has gained experience of what it is like overseas.
Johnson mentioned foreign players have refined skills, but added, “I would say it’s not much of a difference because basketball is so universal now.”
Johnson also gave his viewpoint on former Arizona teammates Aaron Gordon, T..J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Ashley.
Gordon was a one-and-done player and Johnson spent three years at Arizona. Fans got to know Johnson over the course of those seasons — a significant reason for his popularity among Arizona fans. Johnson was asked about his thoughts on the one-and-done rule.
“To me as a college basketball fan as well because I love watching the game, I have no problem with it, honestly,” Johnson said. “I would much rather have a guy like Aaron come to Arizona for one year and have the privilege to watch him, play with him than him go straight out of high school, which he would have probably been one of the candidates who would have went out (to the NBA).
“It is a little bit of a tease and maybe some college fans don’t really like it but I’m looking from the other side. I think that it is a privilege to have those guys in college for one year.”
Johnson also talked about his future in basketball, which he said will include coaching. He said he has a good basketball mind, which he has proved throughout his career, to go along with tremendous athleticism (his dunks are legendary).
“I’m always thinking about life after basketball, for sure,” he said. “That’s honestly why I make so much of an effort to go down to Tucson because I would love to coach down there and be on Coach Miller’s staff eventually and be a head coach.
“I still have a lot left in my tank. I am still getting better every year, I feel like. Obviously, the final goal is to play in the NBA again. If I don’t, I’m very content to play overseas. You make really good money over there. I averaged 30 minutes a game this year, so I got to play. I got to have the ball in my hands. I’m always thinking about life after basketball whether it’s going into the business side and just making connections. This game has blessed me to travel around the world and meet a lot of different people, a lot of interesting people that have their foot in a lot of different things, so I’m definitely thinking about that.”
The Eye on the Ball show is weekdays at 6 p.m. on KVOI.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.