James Johnson of the Toronto Raptors is a member of a small group of athletes. First off he is a Wyoming high school athlete that played division one sports. What makes him even more unique is that he didn't play at the University of Wyoming. Having the smallest population in the United States certainly puts the Cowboy State at a disadvantage when it comes producing college talent.
Wyoming hasn't produced a single division one football or basketball signee in the last two years. That will change in 2012 as the Cowboys have already signed SG Jason McManamen from Torrington. The football team is having three Wyoming products take preferred walk-on spots this year. Drew Martinez from Green River was the last Wyoming high school football to earn a FBS football scholarship in 2010.
Most elite athletes from Wyoming will typically end up in Laramie. James Johnson graduated from Cheyenne East HS and attended Wake Forest. He was drafted in the first round of 2009 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. He was traded to Raptors in 2011.
Johnson did a great interview with SLAM Magizine that it provides some great insight on playing ball in Wyoming and how he chose Wake Forest. It also includes a great picture of what obstacles Wyoming athletes face when trying to get college recruiters attention.
SLAM: You’re the first NBA player to have come out of Wyoming since the 1960s. Do you feel a little added responsibility because of that?
JJ: I know there are a lot of kids up there now that play good basketball. It’s really a small town, so that’s really all there is to do—work on your game, whether it’s basketball, football. Everybody just works on their game out there as much as they could. I felt like it was my job, like I had this opportunity, to let people know where I was from so maybe they can go get some scouts out there. We don’t really get the respect that we deserve because we’re a small town.
Certainly seems like Wyoming athletes have a harder time getting noticed. The internet makes it much easier for kids to get noticed today with videos on Youtube. Even though they show great talent kids may still be overlooked due to what is perceived as a weak level of competition.