Earlier this summer, when a few of us media members sat down with Chris Collins, he was asked to describe each of his incoming freshmen. The word for Johnnie Vassar was "different." To Collins' credit, he did get a little bit more in-depth about Vassar's explosiveness and defensive skills, but the prevailing narrative was the same was everyone else has described him: He's different than anybody NU has ever had before.
It's an odd way for a player to be described — "he could be pretty good, we think!" rather than a specific talent — but Vassar was very much a mystery throughout the recruiting process. Though he had a good offer list, his commitment sort of came out of the blue, and it came on the heels of the commitment of 4-star point guard Bryant McIntosh, whose Northwestern recruitment was far more publicized. Moreover, he was a dunk contest champion, and had "RIDICULOUS" in the title of his YouTube highlights.
The idea that a player like this was going to Northwestern — and do watch the highlights, as they are indeed "ridiculous" — caused a collective "Awesome! but ... uhh ... what?" from the fan base.
But in their defense, Vassar didn't have much time to let people know who he is. He went to four different high schools, only staying at one longer than a year, and traveled from coast to coast looking for places to go to school and play basketball.
The journey started at Lawrence Academy in Massachusetts, but he left because he was homesick for Chicago, where his family lives and where he lived up until seventh grade before leaving for boarding school. He transferred to La Lumiere in Indiana. However, his mom pulled him out of school there after a year, and he transferred to Milton High School in Georgia. The stay at Milton was short-lived — "about a month or so," Vassar said — as coach David Boyd resigned after being implicated in a recruiting scandal. So Vassar left for J Serra High School in California, where he played his final two years and competed against top athletes from powerhouses Mater Dei, Don Bosco, Bishop Gorman and the like.
While Vassar got some early offers from solid programs, including DePaul and Bruce Weber era Illinois, this journey around the country hurt him in the recruiting process.
"You get lost a lot," he said. "It becomes a big game of 'Where's Waldo.' But overall, it worked out apparently."
So I asked him to describe himself to clear up any confusion, or anything that might have been lost during the odyssey. His answer? He's basically everything.
"Always gonna have intensity, especially on the defensive end, as well as be able to create and find my open teammates, as well as speed, and just trying to be able to make the right plays."
Oh and ...
"I would bring (it) defensively all the time, and just energy, as well as pick-and-roll situations, too."
Oh and ...
"I'm very explosive, from the dunk contest and everything like that. I'm very explosive and I'm just trying to do what it takes to win."
Well thanks for clearing that up, Johnnie.
I guess we're just going to have to wait until November to see what Northwestern has in Johnnie Vassar. For now, he's a player the Wildcats have never really had before. Given this school's basketball history, that can't be a bad thing.