In the past three months, two of the state’s top prep basketball players announced their transfer to prep schools.
Monday, the reigning state player of the year joined the list.
Duke recruit Jalen Johnson announced on Instagram that he’ll attend IMG Academy in Florida his senior year. The 6-foot-9 forward led Nicolet to the Division 2 state championship and the No. 8 ranking in USA Today last season.
Last month Nicolet’s Jamari Sibley announced that he will spend his senior year at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. In May, Milwaukee Washington’s Michael Foster Jr., a junior, revealed that he’ll attend Hillcrest Prep in Arizona.
All three players are high-level Division I prospects. Johnson is ranked fourth in the 2020 class by ESPN and Sibley is ranked No. 79. Foster is the sixth-ranked recruit in the 2021 class.
Johnson’s father, Rod, said that his youngest son, Kobe, who is also a Division I prospect, will continue to attend Nicolet.
“For the last year, Nicolet has been great to us. Coach Al (Hanson), the administrators, everyone at Nicolet has been unbelievable, and Kobe will still be going there,” Rod Johnson said. “The main reason we did this is because we want Jalen prepared for when he goes to Duke. Every day he’ll go to school, work on his game and be around like-minded people who are playing at a high level just like he is.”
A dazzling season at Nicolet
Johnson, who attended Sun Prairie as a freshman and sophomore, leaves Nicolet after one spectacular season that ended with him earning the Associated Press and Gatorade state player of the year awards.
He averaged 19.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game for the Knights.
Seven times he recorded triple-doubles. He averaged 18 points, 15.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in two state tournament games and finished the year with 20 points, 20 rebounds and four assists in a 67-54 victory over Washington in the state final.
He followed that with a strong spring and summer season on the club circuit with Phenom University, earning first-team distinction in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) after averaging 17 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.
Academically, Jalen Johnson has been a strong student and this summer he earned the necessary standardized test score to play immediately at Duke.
Rod Johnson said IMG has been recruiting his son since his freshman year.
“What really pushed us is we felt like that we want to give him every opportunity to pursue his dream,” Rod Johnson said. “Not saying he couldn’t do that at Nicolet, but it wouldn’t be the same level of competition, practice, working out on a daily basis.
“It’s not something we thought about overnight. Last year we were very close to sending him, but we decided not to. We didn’t want to break up our family so early because once he leaves the house, he’s pretty much gone because he’s going to be at IMG and he’s going to be at Duke and then wherever that takes him.”
Johnson’s father “fed up” with the WIAA
A lesser factor of the move to IMG, Rod Johnson said, is that the decision ends Jalen’s WIAA eligibility. Rod Johnson was critical of how the WIAA has dealt with his family since its move from Sun Prairie to Glendale.
Johnson’s transfer, along with those of a couple of other talent basketball players from the same club team to Nicolet, sparked a proposed rule change to the WIAA transfer rule that ultimately failed. Rod Johnson said there were other issues behind the scenes
“We’re fed up with the WIAA,” he said. “(Deputy director) Wade Labecki has given us a hard time for the past year. We’ve done everything the right way. We haven’t broken any rules whatsoever. He still makes us send updates on whether we sold our place in Sun Prairie.
“He made a big deal about Jalen going out to USA (Basketball) last week, saying that we had to pay for the flight out there, which we hadn’t done the previous three times we went out there. We’re just done with that, dealing with him trying to find something to bring Jalen down and make it look like we’ve done something wrong.”
Labecki denied those accusations via email.
He wrote that “in cases where the family does make the move and continues to own the previous residence, a waiver can be requested by the school to provide temporary relief via a sunset waiver” and that the family must provide updates until their previous residence is sold.
With regard to USA Basketball, Labecki noted that WIAA rules state that families must pay for 100% of the cost associated with camps. In special cases, such as USA Basketball camps, the athletes don’t have to pay for the cost of the camp but must take care of the cost of travel.
“We’ve allowed all costs from the beginning of the camp to the end of the camp to paid for by USA basketball because they are provided to all participants,” he said. “While these opportunities are not available to any and all interested students, we have done our best to find ways within the rules to allow these athletes to participate.”