By Nick Giannandrea
It wasn't a do-over College of the Sequoias men's basketball standout Savion Johnson wanted.
But on May 12, Johnson committed to continue his academic and athletic career at a four-year school -- for the second time -- when he signed with Benedictine University.
"I'm excited," said Johnson, a Hanford West High graduate. "I'm ready to get out there and start my new journey. It's going to be fun."
Johnson's path to the NAIA university in Mesa, Ariz., has been an interesting one.
Rewind to Jan. 31, when, surrounded by his parents, coaches and teammates, Johnson was all smiles after signing his national letter of intent to attend NCAA Division II Notre Dame de Namur of the Northern California city of Belmont.
Little did Johnson know at the time, however, that his recruitment wasn't over.
Less than two months later, the letter of intent to Notre Dame de Namur became null and void.
Not because Johnson had a change of heart, and certainly not because Argonauts coach Ryan Cooper no longer wanted the athletic 6-foot-6 swing who was a key contributor to a COS team that went 24-6 overall and reached the state's Elite Eight before the California Community College Athletic Association canceled the tournament -- and all sports for the rest of the school year -- because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
Notre Dame de Namur announced on March 23 that it was eliminating its entire athletic program at the end of the 2019-2020 season with intentions to shutter the roughly 1,500-student private catholic university by the end of the 2021 school year.
"We felt like it was a great spot for him when he first committed," COS coach Dallas Jensen said. "He was really excited about the opportunity, and coach Cooper was anxious to get Savion on campus. It was just an unfortunate situation. But Savion is such a good kid and had such a good attitude about it. He took it all in stride."
Johnson re-opened his recruitment, and luckily for him, there were still plenty of colleges interested.
NCAA Division III Dean College in Franklin Mass., which had been recruiting Johnson before he chose Notre Dame de Namur, reached out and offered immediately.
Montana Western and Mayville State, both NAIA universities, also offered Johnson scholarships.
"Not to be cocky, but I knew more offers would come," Johnson said. "It was just a waiting game. I didn't know who was going to come after me, but I knew someone was going to."
After averaging 8.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.7 blocks in 28 games, all while playing stellar defense as a do-everything for COS, Jensen agreed that it would just be a matter of time before Johnson found a new home.
"The first thing I always tell guys about Savion is you'd be getting a great young man," Jensen said. "I love Savion's personality. He's engaging. His teammates love him. He's a great locker room guy. And as a player, at 6-6, he's athletic, can play four different spots on the floor and guard four different spots on the floor. The game has transitioned into an interchangeable brand of basketball, and he fits that very well."
Benedictine eventually became the choice after its staff made a full-court press to land Johnson, often contacting him multiple times a day to express interest.
"I felt really welcomed by them," Johnson said.
Benedictine went 17-14 overall and 15-9 in the Heart of American Conference before losing in the quarterfinals of the conference's tournament last season.
On his official Twitter account, Benedictine coach Steve Schafer said Johnson "brings a ton of athleticism and versatility to our program. He is a high character kid that we absolutely cannot wait to have on campus this fall."
Johnson is COS' fourth player to sign with a four-year university, while sophomore Tiyon Martin (Pasadena) is currently weighing offers from NCAA Division II Limestone and NAIA Cumberlands. The 5-9 guard averaged 10.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.1 steals in 28 games for the Giants.
The other Giants who are moving on include:
* Sophomore Dewayne Holmes (Riverside) signed with Saint Katherine, an NAIA university in San Marcos. The 5-9 guard 5.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.3 steals in 20 games for the Giants.
* Sophomore Elihu Cobb (Santa Maria) committed to Western Oregon, an NCAA Division II university in Monmouth, Ore. The 6-7 forward/center averaged 11.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.9 blocks in 30 games for COS.
* Freshman Carlos Allen (Atlanta) is headed to Montana Western, an NAIA university in Dillon, Mont. The 6-4 guard averaged 5.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 29 games for COS.