Four years ago, Jarvis Johnson was the top rated prospect in the Gophers’ 2015 recruiting class and the first high school player from Minnesota to sign with Richard Pitino.
Johnson, a springy 6-foot-1 guard, won four state titles with DeLaSalle and seemed ready to be an impact player for his home state program.
A heart condition that first surfaced with a cardiac arrest in the eighth grade kept him on the sidelines for his entire college career. Instead of quitting, Johnson remained on the team and supported his Gophers basketball teammates in different ways the last four seasons.
"Jarvis was kind of the first guy we set out to get in the Twin Cities," Pitino said. "He fit our style of play. We loved him as a kid. We really worked hard to get him. Unfortunately, he wasn't cleared, but he has been a terrific member of our team. He's got great perspective. Great on the bench. Great in the locker room. Great in the dorms talking to the guys. He's a leader in a lot of ways that people don't know about ... He'll go on to do great things."
In a Q&A with the Star Tribune, Johnson talked recently about being able to be honored on Senior Night on Tuesday against Purdue, if he will pursue playing basketball in the future and more.
Q: What has your time with the Gophers been like if you could sum it all up?
A: There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but it’s shaped me to be the person that I am. A lot of experiences. Definitely was needed. The most grateful thing I got out of the whole thing was being a part of the team, even though I didn’t play. Some people get their cards dealt different. That was my case.
Q: Did what you went through help your father in his recovery from a stroke a few years ago?
A: I went through it first when I was young. The older I got I was able to understand it and mature with time. I just knew where he was coming from. I needed him and he needed me. It was a two-way street for both of us. He’s almost 100 percent. That was the craziest time probably in my whole entire life just seeing him like that (not able to walk or live on his own). Not knowing whether he would make it or not. I just prayed and hoped for the best – and that’s what I got. He’s still with a cane, but he’s walking. He’s night and day from where he was (during the recovery process).
Q: What was your role as a member of the Gophers basketball team the last four years without playing?
A: Just watching them from the locker room talks and I get chills during the game. I play through them honestly. And I think they play through me. It definitely went by faster than I thought I would. They say in high school it will go by in a blink of an eye, but I didn’t believe that. And that’s what it has felt like.
Q: How close are you with fellow members of your 2015 recruiting class, guys like Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer?
A: Those are my brothers. We had some ups and downs. We had some good times and bad times, but I think overall it will make us who we are in the future.
Q: What did it mean to be the first Minnesota high school player to sign with the Gophers under Pitino? What do you hope to see with recruiting in-state talent moving forward?
A: Just keeping the tradition alive and getting the hometown kids. The fans love it. Minnesota can be a winning program. We just got to keep hometown kids. I’m sure a lot of them want to be here. That’s the whole thing to it. Just for them setting an example and trying to keep the tradition alive.
Q: How does it feel to have fans show you support as a Minnesota kid even when you haven’t played?
A: It’s definitely heartwarming that people still care and they want the best for me. I appreciate that a lot. I appreciate the fans. Whenever I walk around I hear people say: “#FREE12.” And I really appreciate that.
Q: What does that mean now when people write #FREE12 when you won’t be able to play for the Gophers?
A: It just means to never sell yourself short. There’s still other opportunity. Just try to be the best person you can be, whether it’s a good situation or a bad situation. Sometimes you got to deal with it. And that’s what I had to do.
Q: What’s next for you and the future after graduating from the U?
A: I’m not sure if I want to coach yet or still try to continue to play. That’s on my agenda now to try to figure out. It’s happening so fast that I just have to sit down and figure it out with my family.
Q: The U doctors didn’t clear you to play here, but is there a possibility you would play elsewhere or professionally?
A: I haven’t looked into it too much yet, but I’m sure there probably are opportunities. There are a couple of guys I know (with his heart condition) playing overseas. Just to figure it all out. I’m trying to get a feel from people and see what their thoughts are on it. It’s giving me a lot of hope that other guys have done it. You don’t want to give up too soon.
Q: Do you still plan to play in the Twin Cities Pro-Am in the summer?
A: I try to keep my body in shape just in case. That’s what I did, because you never knew if my number was going to get called here or now wherever. I have to stay fit for the next opportunity. (Says he's still can dunk with ease) 100 percent. I don’t think that will ever go away to be honest.
Q: What are your hopes for your senior class and how you guys can finish the season?
A: It will be amazing to make the NCAA tournament our last year. That’s what we’re pushing for and just make a run. It’s always fun to see the guys out there having fun playing with each other and playing together.
Q: How are you going to be on Senior Night when your parents and siblings are out there with you on the Barn court?
A: I have no idea what my emotions are going to be. I think it will be kind of emotional for my mom, my siblings and my dad. But obviously, it will be one night to remember.
Q: What you do think of the DeLaSalle connection with Gabe Kalscheur and him playing well as a freshman?
A: Gabe is a talented kid. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him. He works very, very hard and he’s good in the classroom. I’m excited to see what (he does in) the future.