Puff Johnson: A Star in the Making

Written By Antonio Rossetti, For The Globe

Puff Johnson is a student during the day, but his nights are much different. When evening hits, Puff dawns the iconic Carolina blue uniform, laces up the sneakers and takes the floor for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Most young aspiring players dream of playing in Chapel Hill, but Puff gets to live this dream with his teammates every single day.

Puff’s decision to attend the University of North Carolina wasn’t a difficult choice. 

“My brother went here and had a lot of success, and so I felt like it was almost a blueprint laid out for me,” said Puff. 

Cameron Johnson, who currently plays for the Phoenix Suns in the NBA, carved out quite the career as a member of the Tar Heels. Puff knew the coaches well and knew the players due to Cameron’s tenure there. For him, North Carolina felt like home.

The transition from high school basketball to college basketball can be challenging. There are many differences between college basketball and high school basketball. 

“The biggest difference is definitely just the physicality part and how much stronger everyone else is,” said Puff. 

The college basketball experience is a whole different atmosphere. Instead of playing opponents that are not as strong or as talented, every player is now on the same level.

Although the adjustments may be tough, Puff Johnson is no stranger to change. After his junior season, his brother was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the 2019 NBA draft. Puff and his family decided to move from their hometown in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, to Phoenix, Arizona. Puff Johnson would attend Hillcrest Prep for his senior season.

Before his days in Arizona, he attended Moon High School, and in his junior season, he averaged over 22 points per game. Moving to the other side of the country is a major change. However, in terms of the changes in basketball coaching, not much changed for the young forward. Puff was coached by Adam Kaufman at Moon, but his new coach at Hillcrest prep was former NBA player Mike Bibby. Most would assume that the coaching aspect would be a lot different, but for Puff, the adjustment was not too different, and he adapted to the change of scenery. 

“They have similar mindsets, defensive mindsets,” Puff said. 

Even though both his coaches had far different career paths, Puff Johnson found that they both preached similar philosophies such as team basketball, and both entities contributed to his success.

At Hillcrest Prep, Puff got a first glimpse at what college basketball would be comparable to. Johnson got to play against talented players who are all highly recruited, including Jalen Green, who is currently in the NBA G-League. Puff’s opportunity to play against these stars helped him refine his game.

Puff Johnson is a talented ball-player, but he also is a student of the game. Puff Johnson’s father and brother both played division one basketball. His father was a big man for Pittsburgh, and he helped Puff improve his game. When watching Cameron play, his father will tell him what his brother can do better and what he can do differently to excel in his gameplay. 

“He knew what it took to get to the level and then Cameron getting to that level, it showed me it’s possible to do,” Puff said when asked about the impact of his brother and father.

With his brother’s first NBA season in the books, Puff gained confidence due to him and his brother having an akin style of play. Both Puff and his brother are 6-foot-8, can both shoot, and can both guard multiple positions. In the NBA today, the league has many players who have similar styles that are thriving. Cameron and Puff’s playstyle helps them adapt quickly to speed changes moving level-to-level of basketball.

Puff is aware of how he is following in his brother’s footsteps by going to North Carolina. He watches his brother’s every game, supports him and always puts his family before anything. Cameron had a great college career, but Puff wants to carve out a career of his own. He wants to create his own story, and he has the intangibles to do so. When asked about his best attribute, Puff said, “Scoring the ball, shooting the three, layups mid-range, I’d definitely say is what my best attribute is.” Puff can score at will and proved that at the high school level. Now he is at the college level and keeps looking to improve his game.

Puff is now in his first season at North Carolina, and his pregame rituals will never change. Before every contest, he always prays and reads Psalm 23. This gives his mind the strength to keep battling and to keep steadfast on his journey. Before every game, he also listens to music to lock in and focus.

Puff looks forward to what his career has to offer. He is excited to continue to play for the Tar Heels and coach Roy Williams. Puff loves coach Roy’s approach to coaching his players. Puff said that his go-to line is, “I’ll take care of the name on the back if you take care of the name on the front.” If the players give it their all and take care of the legacy of North Carolina, coach Williams will always be there for them. This produces not just a winning culture but a family culture.

Puff Johnson always wanted to play at the division one level. He loves the atmosphere and the people he plays with. Nonetheless, basketball isn’t his everything. Basketball is not his main goal. The question is, what are Puff’s goals, and what does he and the team strive for? 

“Just being a better person,” Puff said. “That’s what we all strive for, just being the best person we can be to others.”