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Sunday February 28th

Building off a family legacy, Puff Johnson plans to make a name for himself

UNC first year guard Puff Johnson poses for a portrait in the Dean Smith Center on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. Photo courtesy of Morgan Pirozzi for UNC Athletic Communications.
Buy Photos UNC first year guard Puff Johnson poses for a portrait in the Dean Smith Center on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. Photo courtesy of Morgan Pirozzi for UNC Athletic Communications.

North Carolina athletics likes to describe itself as a tight-knit family. This is especially true for brothers Puff and Cameron Johnson. 

When first-year guard Donovan "Puff" Johnson initially committed to the Tar Heels in November of 2019, he knew he would be labeled as “Cam Johnson’s younger brother.” However, he has made it a personal goal to create a name for himself within the UNC basketball program. 

“I definitely knew that wherever I went, that that name would follow me just because of where he is now and how successful he was at the college level,” Johnson said. “I know that people are always going to compare me to Cam, but I do want to make a name for myself here.”

Cam, who now plays for the Phoenix Suns, is one of Puff’s greatest mentors in the development of his game. Playing the same position as guards, the brothers have similar styles and mannerisms of their game. Cam, having more experience since he has already played at the college level, continues to help younger brother Puff grow in the sport. 

Current players like Garrison Brooks also see a bright future ahead for Puff. 

“Puff is a really hard worker, very aggressive on the offensive board," Brooks said. "It seems like he’s going to dunk a lot more balls than Cam because his hands are bigger. He could potentially be like Cam with his hard work and dedication.” 

Coming into Roy Williams’ program, Johnson knew he was stepping into a home away from home. While Cam’s decision to play at UNC played only a minor role in Puff’s commitment, it was the support and knowledge of his family that really helped Puff during his recruitment. 

“With both my mom and dad both playing college basketball, they knew what to look for during the recruitment process, and I really leaned on their experience,” Johnson said. “They knew what North Carolina presented, and they knew what I would get coming here because of Cameron’s experience in the program.”

However, Cam himself did not push Puff toward choosing North Carolina. Instead, he simply wanted Puff to choose the program that best suited him as both a person and a basketball player. 

“He did express a lot of confidence in me coming here, and he thought it would be a good fit for me,” Johnson said. “But, he just wanted what was best for me and my game.”

In addition to the guidance of his older brother, Puff was also able to find a brotherhood within the UNC basketball program. Since Cam had been through the program prior to Puff’s arrival, Puff was already familiar with the upperclassmen, like junior Leaky Black and redshirt junior Sterling Manley. Since coming to UNC, his relationships with these players, as well as those of his own class, have further grown.

“We’re always looking out for one another," Johnson said. "Any time I need something, I can hit them up. It’s just a great family atmosphere here."

Since he is only a first-year, Puff has four years to create a name for himself under the umbrella of UNC basketball. With the help of his brother Cam and the family he has found at UNC, Puff is on his way to making this a reality. 

“For him to be a freshman and do the things we see him doing in practice, it’s pretty promising,” Black said.  

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