skip navigation

Clarendon's Dior Johnson Discusses Past, Present and Future

By Cody Hopkins, 03/14/24, 10:45AM EDT


As an 8th grader playing for the varsity team at Saugerties HS in New York, 14-year-old Dior Johnson surpassed the 1,000-point mark before even setting foot on a high school campus. His name became synonymous with other young stars in the basketball-rich state, yet no one had achieved what he did at such a young age. Agents, handlers, prep schools, and AAU programs soon began vying for the chance to work with one of the most popular young athletes. Playing pick-up games in Syracuse with men a decade his senior, along with current and former NBA players and other elite prospects, became a part of his weekly routine. The University of Buffalo was the first to offer Johnson a full scholarship when he was in eighth grade. Johnson fondly recalls that moment as the point when things began to accelerate, both on and off the court, leading to his current situation in Clarendon, TX, playing under former Buffalo assistant Hunter Jenkins in a small panhandle town with a population of 1,867. Johnson says that his first move away from home was simply because he wanted a challenge, and he knew that he had already become dominant at home in the public school league.  He wanted to face the best of the best, and to do that he would need to pack his bags.  "I was in the 8th grade, and I'm killing these guys.  I didn't feel like I was getting better.  There were much bigger opportunities to be challenged on the prep circuit.  I was just a regular kid in a small hood town, a good basketball player, but no one reached the levels I wanted to at home.  Few make it out unless you have a talent that allows you to leave."

Life has finally slowed down for Johnson in West Texas, which is exactly what he needed, and his performance on the court is returning to the levels he once dreamed of. The final piece of his of his collegiate journey is finding a Division 1 program willing to take a chance on him. With many high-major programs showing interest, Johnson is patiently waiting for the opportunity to prove his value. recently sat down with Dior to discuss his past, his present season, and his aspirations for the future.

Johnson first committed to Syracuse, but later had a change of heart and decided to reopen his recruitment to build relationships with other coaches. After playing two seasons on the West Coast during the AAU season, he grew fond of former Oregon assistant Chris Crutchfield and committed to Oregon in his junior year. That spring, Crutchfield accepted an offer to be the head coach at Omaha, and once again, Johnson found himself in the market for a permanent home of sorts. Jeff Capel saw the potential Johnson had and worked tirelessly to convince the 5-star recruit that Pittsburgh would be the spot that could help him get back on track with his NBA dreams. A chance to play near home in the ACC a genuine relationship with Jeff Capel are the reasons he chose Pitt.

Johnson arrived on campus in the fall of 2022, and within weeks, he found himself in a legal battle that would pause any hopes he had of competing for the Panthers that season. A female acquaintance from his California days flew to Pittsburgh to stay with Johnson, and an argument broke out that resulted in Johnson being arrested and jailed on domestic violence charges. Eventually, four of the five charges were dropped and Johnson took a plea deal and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. According to Johnson and his family, he was advised to take a plea deal by the athletic administration at the time for a misdemeanor to put this situation behind him and return to the court at Pitt.  As promised, he made his debut on the Panthers' foreign tour in the summer of 2023, proving to be a future star in Pittsburgh with his debut across the pond. Upon returning, however, he found news that he was no longer allowed to be a student at Pitt after a change in campus administration. The new administrators found that his plea violated the school's code of conduct. Johnson met with the coaching staff at Pitt and they advised him that his best bets would be to play overseas or find a junior college and get back on the court as soon as possible. Through intermediaries, he talked to numerous junior colleges, but only one would say yes to his background check.

Clarendon College, despite being in one of the country's toughest junior college conferences, is often viewed as an eyesore due to its location and lack of resources. Head Coach Hunter Jenkins discussed bringing Johnson in with his administration. A full scholarship was offered, though Johnson had to sit out the first semester due to his late arrival. If he could endure two months in the plains of West Texas, he would finally get to play a real game with teammates and referees—a far cry from the national spotlight, but just what he needed to return to basketball.

Johnson recalls suiting up for Clarendon at the All-American Jamboree in Wichita, a preseason collection of scrimmages against some of the top junior college players who are taking an alternate route to the four-year level. It was there he realized this level could improve his game, restore his confidence, and importantly, do so in front of a host of coaches analyzing his every move. Johnson said, "You hear about JUCO, people tell you about JUCO, everyone has an opinion about JUCO, but once I got here, I appreciated the grind that everyone makes at this level. There are some really good players that I go up against every night, some with similar stories, and we are all just trying to make it out. These guys are hungry, and being here helped me regain my appetite for success."

Stability is something he didn't find until he joined the junior college ranks, for which he is grateful. When Johnson's story comes up in recruiting circles, his lack of commitment to a program and checkered past highlight his scouting report. It's hard to find the good, like how former coaches are rooting hard for his comeback. Since becoming eligible at the semester, Johnson has quickly ascended back to levels where high-major programs seek his high-end talent. Johnson has a new appreciation for the game and his current opportunity. After spending four years on the road, bouncing from home to home, and school to school, Johnson has found a stable environment at Clarendon. "Going through this year has put basketball and school back at the forefront of my mind. It's reminded me how much I love the game, and that it can be taken from you in a heartbeat."

Johnson is currently averaging 28ppg, 6rpg, and 41% shooting from 3 which tells the story of his game getting back in shape, but in the back of his mind, he knows he is far from reaching the level he knows he can play at. His 58-point outburst against Howard on February 15th, in a crucial 104-100 OT win, positions his team towards the top of the Region 5 standings and a postseason berth. Johnson has logged 40 points in two of his last three games, catching coaches' attention. "Even the lunch ladies are excited; they are my favorite. I've met some of the nicest people on earth here at Clarendon. Those ladies invite me over for home-cooked meals, cheer us on whether we win or lose. Being with my teammates, who are all good dudes just hoping for a chance, and my coach, Coach Jenkins. Jenk is the best; he's really stayed with me and helped me work through the hard days. This is the best place I've been, and I'm just thankful they gave me the opportunity."

Johnson frequently admits to past failures in our interview, wishing above all to be an example for young prodigies now in the shoes he once wore. The glitz, glamour, and notoriety of being a junior high basketball star is a dangerous trap that can derail a young man's growth and maturity. When asked what he would say to a current junior high superstar, he was blunt. "Stay focused on basketball, and whatever keeps your mind on that. The money, fame, and attention are toxic. You chase the wrong things. I was getting invited to camps, but boarding planes to Miami to party with hip-hop artists and NBA guys at 16. I wasn't working in the gym. That's where it went wrong; I fell in love with the lifestyle and out of love with the ball."

You won't find beaches or nightclubs in Clarendon, Texas, but Johnson found a path back to making basketball a priority. When it comes to what's next, "I want to challenge myself at the high-major level. I know I can take what I've learned these last few years and improve on what hasn't gone well. I want a culture with good people and hard coaching. I want to win. I don't care about NIL; I've had those days. I want my next move to be my best move, and what matters.”

Recent Headlines: