By LARRY VAUGHT
Link (Mo.) Academy coach Bill Armstrong has 21 years of college coaching experience and has helped recruit three McDonald’s All-Americans, 24 all-Southeastern Conference selections and 10 NBA players.
Armstrong understands how special junior guard Jasper Johnson can be. The 6-5 guard transferred from Woodford County High School this season to play for Link and had a spectacular 37-point performance in his homecoming game at Woodford against Huntington Prep.
“Jasper is just a dynamic scorer. He can beat his man off the dribble and he gets others involved in the offense,” Armstrong said. “He’s been working on getting others more involved in practice. Part of the reason he came here was to use other ways to improve his offensive game. Things like good ball fakes and angles.
“He can score in bunches and has done that. One game he had 19 points in 18 minutes. He has the ability to get you back into the game or extend leads and end the game.
“When he’s open, it’s like a layup. He’s that good a shooter. He hits about 90 percent at the foul line and that’s something I am trying to encourage him to find ways to get to the line more.”
Johnson is now ranked as high as the No. 10 player in the 2025 recruiting class and could continue to climb higher. He knows his defense needs work and that’s one reason he came to Link to play for Armstrong, who coaches at Ole Miss and LSU.
“He is making progress. They all have a ways to go to get where they want to get in college and then the next level. It’s nonsense when people say they do not play defense in the NBA,” Armstrong said. “They are trying. It’s just that the players are that good offensively.
“Jasper has tried to make strides. He has some building left to do but he is doing everything we ask of him and is getting better daily.”
He’s doing it well enough that Kentucky coach John Calipari along with head coaches from North Carolina, West Virginia and Missouri watched him play at Woodford County. He also has offers from Georgia Tech, Baylor, Kansas, Louisville, Arizona State, Auburn, California, Cincinnati, Florida State, Indiana, LSU, Memphis, Texas A&M, USC and Xavier.
Speculation has been thrown around that Johnson might reclassify to the 2024 recruiting class. Armstrong said that his a decision only Johnson and his family can make.
“I coached at the highest level of college basketball and I feel I can help him know if he is ready (to reclassify). It’s a long time until May for a 17-year-old kid,” Armstrong said. “It’s not a decision that has to be made now. It’s an option for him and his family to weigh later.
“I went through the same thing last year with Elliot Cadeau. We won the national championship, he looked ready (to reclassify) and I thought he was. Now he is the starting point guard at North Carolina,” Armstrong said.
“Jasper is not far off. It’s not something I think there is no way he would be able to do. A lot will depend on how hard he works in the weight room. Sometimes you have to get older to put on weight but you can get stronger. If he is strong enough to get to his spots and not get knocked off the ball, then it (reclassifying) could be an option for him.”
Jasper Johnson continues to say that reclassifying to the 2024 class remains an “option” but his plan remains to stay in the 2025 class.
“I know I need to let my body mature to hopefully prepare for one season (in college) and then go to the (NBA) draft,” Johnson said. “I think I need another year mentally and physically before college. There are still things for me to do to fulfill my high school dreams.”
Johnson’s father, Dennis, is the head football coach/athletics director at Woodford but he’s also a former all-SEC defensive lineman at UK who also played in the NFL.
“We are not going to reclassify,” Dennis Johnson said. “He needs another year to get his body right for college. Woodford to Link was a big step but Link to college is an even bigger step. We have options in mind that will make that transition easier for him.”