by April 16, 2013
kasey hill and dakari johnson


by Farmer Jones / portraits by Robert Snow

It’s late March when we catch up with Kasey Hill and Dakari Johnson, two of the best—and busiest—players in the nation. At a time of year when most high school ballers are taking a little break, the Montverde (FL) Academy teammates are prepping for the most hectic and high-profile month of their season.

First there’s Chicago, IL, for the McDonald’s All-American Game. The very next day, they’re in Maryland to face other elite prep powers at the National High School Invitational. A week after that, they’re in Brooklyn for the Jordan Brand Classic. Before the month is out, Hill heads out to Portland for the Nike Hoop Summit (while Johnson finally gets a breather). It’s nonstop, but they wouldn’t want it any other way.

Hill and Johnson are nothing less than the best inside-out combo in the nation, top-15 prospects who anchored Montverde’s run to a 23-2 record and a No. 2 national ranking. At 7-foot (“with shoes on”) and 255 pounds, Johnson is widely considered the best pure post in the country. “I think most people consider me a throwback center—I don’t really go outside my area, I’m a great rebounder, and I stay in the paint,” the transplanted BK native says. “In this generation, there’s a lot of 6-10, 6-11 guys who try to shoot threes and handle the ball. I know what I am.”

Among other things, he’s an ideal running mate for Hill, a 6-1, 175-pounder considered one of the top-three PGs in the 2013 class. Like Johnson, he sees himself as a purist at his position. “I just try to create for my teammates,” Hill says. “I can get in the lane, I can finish over bigger defenders and I try to play really tough defense.”

Both have plenty to work on—Johnson knows he needs to improve his range and handle, no matter how comfortable he is in the paint, and Hill is focused on polishing his assist-to-turnover ratio—and it helps that both are playing for one of the best coaches in the nation. Kevin Boyle made his name and fame at Elizabeth (NJ) St. Patrick, mentoring a range of future DI talents and NBA stars from Al Harrington to Kyrie Irving. In two seasons, he has confirmed Montverde’s place on the national map.  Johnson and Hill have been the biggest reasons why. Dakari followed Boyle from Jersey, part of a web of hoop connections that includes his mom, Makini Campbell, who played ball at LIU, got a Master’s degree and now works as a guidance counselor at Montverde. Then there’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, with whom Johnson teamed as a freshman at St. Pat’s, and who is something of a mentor. It seems only fitting that Johnson will be at Kentucky this fall.

Hill is a Florida guy through and through, and he’ll be running next season with his home-state Gators. Both figure to have major impacts on schools with serious 2014 Final Four hopes.

In the meantime, they’ve got a few more games to run together. Not surprisingly, their partnership is a mutual admiration society. “Kasey’s a competitor,” Johnson says. “In practice, we kind of talk smack to each other, but it’s to make each other better.” As for Hill, “Me and Dakari are really cool. He plays hard, and we click on the court very easily.”

All of which must make their shared, hectic schedule a little easier to handle.