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Transfer challenge over, Cameron Johnson adds three-point game to UNC’s arsenal

Cameron Johnson’s transfer debacle made national news. With the trouble finally behind him, the three-point specialist officially signed a scholarship agreement with North Carolina on Friday.

At long last, Cameron Johnson is a Tar Heel.

Johnson, who played for the University of Pittsburgh basketball team each of the last two seasons, officially signed his scholarship offer from the University of North Carolina on Friday, the school announced. The news means that Johnson will be immediately eligible to play for the defending NCAA champions when their season kicks off in the fall.

But Johnson’s transfer, which made national headlines, didn’t come without its challenges.

Normally, when a player transfers from one Division-I institution to another, NCAA restrictions force them to sit out for a year of their eligibility. That rule, though, doesn’t apply to graduate transfers, which Johnson is after he earned his undergraduate degree in Communications in just three years at Pitt.

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That should’ve meant that Johnson, with two years of eligibility remaining (since he medically redshirted as a freshman with a shoulder injury), was free to transfer to any school he wanted.

If only it was that simple.

Pitt, citing an athletic department policy, said it would grant Johnson his release and allow him to transfer anywhere to play immediately, so long as it wasn’t to another ACC program.

That became an issue when Johnson decided he wanted to transfer to North Carolina, which won the regular season conference title last season. Pitt stuck by its policy, initially withholding Johnson’s full release. But after the debacle earned national attention—and outrage, by most media outlets, journalists and universities—the school eventually relented.

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Now, one question remains: How does the 6-foot-8 guard, third on the Panthers in scoring last season with 11.9 points per game, fit in with the reigning national champs?

In theory, pretty well. Johnson’s best attribute—and coincidentally, North Carolina’s biggest weakness—is his three-point shooting. Johnson buried 41.5% of his 188 three-point tries during the 2016-17 season, flashing extensive range and a quick release from behind the arc. Adept at moving off the ball and more than capable as a spot-up shooter, Johnson’s shooting should be a welcome addition for the Tar Heels.

The natural inclination is that Johnson, whose length and build compares favorably with Justin Jackson, will slide into the starting small forward spot vacated by Jackson’s early entry into the NBA draft. Last season, Jackson made a program-record 105 three-pointers en route to ACC Player of the Year and First Team All-American honors.

If that is the case and Johnson comes in a starter, he’s more than capable of contributing offensively alongside UNC’s returning scorers, namely Joel Berry II. 

The other option available to Tar Heels coach Roy Williams is to bring Johnson off the bench as a scorer for the second unit and former five-star prospect Theo Pinson, who finished last season as the team’s starting shooting guard, would likely slide into Jackson’s starting small forward spot.

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Either way, Johnson’s shooting ability will be a tremendous help for a UNC program that lost seven players from last season’s national championship team. 

“We are excited to have Cameron and his family join our program,” Williams said in a statement. “The young man went through a demanding process to get to North Carolina.” 

“We are happy to have someone join our program who wanted to be with us so badly. I look forward to helping him improve as a player and watching the impact he has on our program.”