Kerry Johnson took up coaching basketball because of his own sonâ€™s interest in the game at a young age, and he has since had a chance to work with players at every level.
But when a player named Bawa Muniru (pronounced BOW-waa moo-KNEE-roo) arrived in Huntsville five years ago, Johnson was confronted with a job for which nothing could have prepared him.
â€œIt was like teaching a complete beginner,â€ he said, chuckling, â€œwho just happened to be almost 7-foot.â€
While Muniru (6-11, 250 pounds) remains a raw prospect, he did enough playing for Madison Academy (where he won three state titles) and an assortment of AAU teams to become a coveted prospect in the class of 2009.
And on Thursday he became the sixth player to give a verbal commitment to Indiana coach Tom Crean.
â€œI didnâ€™t even know he wanted to commit,â€ said Johnson, an assistant at Madison who has also worked with Muniru over the summer. â€œI thought he would just check in with coach Crean. But he must have been sure.â€
Muniru visited Indiana last weekend. His trip included a midnight stroll with Crean down Kirkwood, during which he was recognized by dozens of fans. He also attended the football game on Saturday and spent time with future teammate Derek Elston, a 6-8 forward who was the first player to join the 2009 class.
Despite raving about his visit, Muniru told those closest to him that he wasnâ€™t ready to make a college decision.
â€œHe came back and he was pretty sure that he wanted to take other visits,â€ Johnson said. â€œOklahoma State and Missouri were up there on his list. But he obviously found what he wanted.â€
Now Bawa must find a place to attend school and play this season. As a 19-year-old, his is no longer eligible to play for Madison Academy and has been searching for prep schools to attend. He began the year at Charis Prep in North Carolina, but decided to leave when the NCAA announced recently that it would not accept grades from Charis.
Johnson said that Bawa and his guardian, Madison girlsâ€™ basketball coach Brian Privett, hope to decide where he will play by the end of this weekend. They are considering a number of schools, he said.
Neither Bawa or Privett returned messages left for them Friday.
Johnson does not expect Muniru, who plans to sign during the early period in November, to have trouble qualifying.
Muniru arrived in the United State from Ghana as a thin, 6-8 14-year-old. His move was orchestrated, in part, by Adama Kiawu, the Liberian sports director who would team with Bloomington resident Mark Adams a year later to start the A-Hope Foundation (African Hoops Opportunities Providing an Education).
Like current Indiana forward Tijan Jobe â€” an A-Hope product â€” he landed at Laurinburg Prep in North Carolina, but moved to Huntsville with an assistant coach and found a home at Madison.
Indianaâ€™s coaching staff noticed Muniru playing for Johnsonâ€™s AAU squad, Team Vigilance, at the Kentucy Hoopfest in Louisville during the July evaluation period. Their pursuit of Muniru was bolstered by the hiring of assistant coach Roshown McLeod, a former player for the Atlanta Hawks who was well-known throughout the South for his work in player development.
Johnson said Muniru has worked to rebound above the rim and is trying to improve his footwork.
â€œHeâ€™s all upside,â€ Johnson said. â€œHeâ€™s worked hard to get where he is and if he can keep that up he can become a really complete and special player.â€
Bawaâ€™s commitment means that Indiana could sign six players (it already has verbal commitments from guards Jordan Hulls and Maurice Creek, wing Christian Watford and forwads Elston and Bobby Capobianco) in November even though it will only have five open scholarships in 2009 if the current roster stays in tact.
The Big Ten allows teams to over-sign by one to compensate for the frequency of transfers.
Players are especially apt to transfer in a coachâ€™s first year; three players left Indiana following the 2006-07 season, Kelvin Sampsonâ€™s first as head coach.