No program in the country comes close to matching UCLA's 11 national championships.

Kentucky is second on the all-time list, winning its eighth title last season. Indiana and North Carolina have five banners each.

John Wooden coached the Bruins to 10 of those championships with Hall of Fame talents like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton. Reggie Miller and Russell Westbrook are among the many NBA stars who first made a name for themselves at Pauley Pavilion.

While growing up in the Los Angeles area, Xavier Johnson watched as Ben Howland guided the Bruins to three consecutive Final Four appearances.

But when the UCLA head coach offered the Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) High School standout a scholarship, the four-star recruit decided to pass on the blue-blood tradition in Westwood for a unique opportunity to help build something special at Colorado.

"It's the place to be right now," Johnson explained of the decision during a recent interview with the Camera.

That's an amazing statement considering CU suffered through three consecutive 20-loss seasons and was a member of the Big 12 while Johnson was developing into a high-level prospect.

The hiring of Tad Boyle coupled with the move to the Pac-12 has changed everything for the Buffs.

Johnson and the rest of a captivating six-man recruiting class are looking to take the program to even greater heights after CU's back-to-back 24-win campaigns, which ended with memorable NIT and NCAA tournament runs.


"The Buffaloes are just a great program. Everything here is just perfect," said Johnson, who was also recruited seriously by Arizona State, Harvard, Oregon State, San Diego State, UNLV and USC. "I feel coming to this school will help me with parts of my game that I need help with.

"It's an honor to play under coach Tad Boyle, and I wouldn't consider going anywhere else."

Johnson helped lead Mater Dei to a pair of California Interscholastic Federation Division I state championships. One of his high school teammates, guard Eli Stalzer, has joined him at CU.

Along the recruiting trail, Johnson gained notoriety for dunking over UCLA-bound Shabazz Muhammed, the nation's top-ranked high school prospect in 2012, and also posterizing Austin Rivers, a freshman at Duke last season who was the 10th overall pick in last month's NBA draft.

Sophomore point guard Spencer Dinwiddie described Johnson as a "monster" and predicts the fab freshman will remind fans of Andre Roberson, the reigning Pac-12 rebounding king who is likely going to be the Buffs' next NBA draft pick.

However, it wasn't Johnson's physical prowess that stood out to teammates and coaches during early summer workouts on campus.

"At practice Xavier was listening and he took constructive criticism pretty well," said sophomore guard Askia Booker, who also competed against Johnson in high school. "You can tell that he knows what he's doing. He's going to listen and he's ready to play."

Boyle believes Johnson can immediately help replace the production of Austin Dufault, who emerged as a consistent player in the post and on the perimeter as a senior.

"Xavier has a competitive streak I really like," Boyle said. "If all that continues he's got the physical strength and maturity that is well beyond a normal freshman."

Johnson's father, Samuel, played at San Diego State in the late 1980s where he was a stellar defensive player for disciplinarian Jim Brandenburg.

The family is looking forward to wearing black and gold at the Coors Events Center on Jan. 12 when CU hosts UCLA for the first time in Boulder as conference rivals.

"I think he made a great choice. Coach Boyle is a great coach, he's proving that to the country already," Samuel Johnson told the Camera during the Buffs' loss to the Bruins last season in Los Angeles. "We think it's going to be a great opportunity for Xavier to go to a great school and play in a great environment. He's showing maturity in making good choices right off the bat."

So what was the best piece of advice dad ever passed along to his talented son growing up?

"To work hard all the time and don't take anything for granted," Xavier Johnson said. "Don't stop at the finish line, go through the finish line."

With the arrival of Johnson and the 2012 class, Buffs fans believe something special is brewing at the Coors Events Center.

"Just walking around campus there are people I don't know saying, 'Hey, what's up.' Just telling me how excited they are for the season," Johnson said. "It just shows how much they care and what CU basketball is really about."