UConn's Johnson leaning on old pal Sanogo while adjusting to college life
Storrs — Before Samson Johnson joined the UConn basketball family, he already had a brother, of sorts, on the team.
Johnson and Adama Sanogo, now in his second season with the Huskies, grew close during their time as high school teammates at the Patrick School in Hillside, N.J.
He's happy that Sanogo is there to help him navigate the difficult transition from high school to Division I college ball.
"That's a big plus for me," Johnson said on Wednesday when all three members of the top 15 ranked recruiting class, including guards Rahsool Diggins and Jordan Hawkins, met with the media. "We're like big brother and little brother. We just keep building on that relationship every day."
They share more than a close bond.
They also share a similar background and frontcourt position.
Both players left their homes and traveled from overseas to pursue their basketball dreams — Sanogo is from Bamako, Mali, and Johnson from Lome, Togo. Sanogo checks in at 6-foot-9 while Johnson is 6-10.
Sanogo serves as a prime example for Johnson of what a combination of talent, hard work and determination can do. He burst on the scene as a freshman, earned a starting job, and ended up on the Big East's All-Freshman team, averaging 7.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in a productive 17 minutes per game.
"He improved a lot," Johnson said. "He worked on his shot, on his ability to finish through traffic and things like that. I think I can get there."
Due to pandemic-related recruiting restrictions, Samson hadn't spoken to coach Dan Hurley in person or visited campus until arriving in Storrs in early June.
Hurley offered Samson some encouraging words.
"He said I can bring a lot to the team," Johnson said.
After Johnson signed a national letter of intent late last fall, Hurley called Johnson "a very exciting player with a tremendous upside. He is a perfect fit for the type of player we were looking for in this class. He's long, athletic and can really shoot.
"Along with his obvious talent, he's had an amazing journey."
Early reviews from team workouts this summer give Johnson high marks.
He's made great all-around strides since committing to UConn last August and his recruiting ranking soared to top 40 status.
"Mentally, for the most part," Johnson said when asked where he's improved the most, "I trust myself more. I have more confidence in myself."
That's not to say there hasn't been an adjustment period.
"It was kind of hard for me, but I'm getting used to it now," Johnson said. "It's intense. Everybody goes hard and everybody pushes each other. I enjoy it. I'm ready for that. I can take it."
When asked about his strengths, Johnson responded: "I think I can stretch the floor a lot. Not a lot of big guys like me can stretch the floor, they just play on the post."
Johnson is part of a deep and mostly experienced frontcourt that also includes returning players in Sanogo, Isaiah Whaley, Tyrese Martin, Akok Akok, Tyler Polley and Richie Springs.
Diggins believes Johnson will benefit from Sanogo's presence and mentorship.
"Samson is not much of a vocal person," Diggins said. "They knew each other before they got there. So, I think he can open up to Samson and make Samson talk. Samson always competes. He has great hands. And they both actually finish very well around the rim. It doesn't have to be a dunk, it can be a little floater. They have great touch."