MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For the second time in four years, Andy Vlajkovich will send one of his players to West Virginia University. After guiding Derek Culver at Warren G. Harding High School in Ohio, Vlajkovich is now coaching WVU commit Kobe Johnson at Canton-McKinley High School.
“He is as high-character of a kid as I have had,” Vlajkovich said. “He is a phenomenal leader in our locker room. Our guys respect him. They respect his work ethic. They respect his demeanor and the way he carries himself. He is a humble kid. He is friends with all of our guys but at the same time, he is not afraid to let our guys know when they are not performing up to expectations.”
Johnson verbally committed to WVU’s recruiting Class of 2021 last week. He is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound rising senior who can play both guard spots.
“They are getting a perfect Huggins-type guy. They are getting a big, strong guard who is an easy guy to play with. He can score it at the rim. He can score it in the mid-range game. He can also shoot the three. I think what separates Kobe from a lot of high school guys at his age is that he is a willing and able defender.”
Vlajkovich was impressed with Johnson’s play as a freshman. coaching against him in the 2017-2018 season. Johnson averaged nine points per game in his first varsity season.
“You could see he was a star in the making but he didn’t really have a star’s game. He didn’t have a star’s attitude. He just fit in as a freshman. That is a testament to his maturity.”
Vlajkovich became Johnson’s coach a year later and he says Kobe took a major step forward from his sophomore season to his junior season.
“As a sophomore, he had to carry our team. As adults, we like watching kids grow up right before our eyes. I am okay with watching a kid struggle, especially as I watch you grow and mature. The mistakes he made as a sophomore, he didn’t make them as a junior.”
Johnson led Canton-McKinley to three postseason victories and a district championship this past winter.
“What Kobe did in the tournament is incredible. He scored 33 against Massillon, our arch rival. He scored 20 against Boardman and 20 against Green in the (district) championship game.”
Vlajkovich says Johnson has made steady improvement this summer, despite the lack of a traditional AAU schedule.
“Kobe took advantage of this COVID situation as much as any player I could imagine. I watched him the other day in open gym and when you watch a kid for three years, and he wows you still, you know you are continuing to get better.”
Johnson received scholarship offers from a dozen mid-major programs. West Virginia was his first ‘Power 5’ offer.
“Kobe knows he is a high-major player but he didn’t get a lot of high-major interest.
“Why West Virginia? Number one — He wants to play high-major basketball. Number two — I don’t think he wanted to go too far from home. Number three — he is getting coached by a Hall of Famer. Number four — He is playing in the Big 12. At the end of the day, it checked all the boxes.”
Catching up with Culver
Derek Culver would need to stay for a senior season to be teammates with Johnson at WVU. Vlajkovich has enjoyed watching Culver mature into an All-Big 12 player.
“I couldn’t be more proud. My family watches West Virginia basketball as if it were my own team. Derek will always hold a special place in my heart. We went through our trials and tribulations and I know Huggs had to pull a Huggs, so to speak when he was a freshman. At the end of the day, as a high school coach, you root for your guys figure it out.”