Nate Johnson to return to Xavier

The transfer guard missed the last five games of the season due to an injury

by joe laurich, staff writer
Newswire photo by Desmond Fischer
Nate Johnson averaged 11.4 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game and was Xavier’s best three-point
shooter this past season. He’ll likely start for Xavier next season in an important year for the program.

Xavier men’s basketball got some positive news on Tuesday when Nate Johnson announced via Instagram hype video that he would be returning to the Musketeers for the 2021-22 season. 

Johnson averaged 11.4 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game for Xavier last season while shooting 48.5% from three-point range and being one of the team’s best perimeter defenders. Johnson missed the last five games with a lower-leg injury, and Xavier struggled to a 1-4 finish without him in the lineup. However, Johnson has already had surgery on the injury and is expected to be fully healthy for the start of next season.

 His return gives the Musketeers a much-needed boost to both their perimeter shooting and guard depth for next season. With KyKy Tandy transferring and uncertainty whether or not Paul Scruggs will return, Xavier would rely on Adam Kunkel, Colby Jones and C.J. Wilcher to be their primary perimeter scoring options for next year. Johnson coming back adds another name to that list and improves Xavier’s backcourt depth immensely, as Johnson’s return means Xavier’s 2021-22 backcourt will feature Dwon Odom, Kunkel, Jones, Wilcher and Johnson who all have starting experience for Xavier.

Moving forward, Xavier will likely try to add to that guard depth by hitting the transfer market for a reliable ball handler because, right now, Odom is the only guy on the roster who fits the bill as a true point guard. The Musketeers were reported to have a meeting with Pitt transfer Au’diese Toney this week, but with Johnson returning, Toney may no longer be a fit for Xavier as Toney is more of an off-ball guard. Xavier will also likely try to add another interior presence via transfer to pair with Zach Freemantle, Ben Stanley, Dieonte Miles, Cesare Edwards, Elijah Tucker and possibly Bryan Griffin if he decides to return for another season. Xavier struggled with their interior defense toward the end of the year, so adding someone tough who can fight for boards and defend will be important for Travis Steele and his staff. 

After a disappointing finish to the 2020-21 season, Xavier’s fanbase is getting restless and will expect a tournament appearance from next year’s team. For back-to-back seasons, the Musketeers have been on the precipice of an NCAA Tournament berth, only to lose three games in a row, including a first round exit in the Big East Tournament. 

While there was no NCAA Tournament in 2020, it’s expected the Musketeers would’ve been on the outside looking in off the court, which would’ve made three straight seasons where the Musketeers didn’t make the big dance. Given that Xavier had only missed the tournament twice from 2000-2018, the fanbase expects to be in the NCAA Tournament pretty much every year. That’s what makes next season so imperative for the Musketeers, as a miss next year would be three straight when the tournament is actually played and why Johnson’s return is huge for Travis Steele and Xavier.