USF lands top 100 prospect Johnson

Tahira Johnson gives the Bulls a commit from the the ESPN HoopGurlz Hundred. Glenn Nelson/ESPN

For Tahira Johnson, the choice was probably the easiest part of the process.

The 6-foot-1 forward from New York didn't even need to come home and sleep on her decision. She verbally committed Friday night, during her official visit to South Florida.

"They play in the Big East and it's the best conference in college basketball," Johnson said by phone Saturday. "Coach Jose [Fernandez] is really trying to build something here and I wanted somewhere I could go and make a name for myself."

Connecticut, Louisville and Rutgers are just three of the Big East teams the Bulls will have to defeat in the quest for a title, but Johnson is excited about the challenge and her new coach's drive for the team's success.

In his ninth year leading the Bulls, Fernandez has guided the program to five seasons of a .500 record or better, including a 16-16 finish in 2007-'08, after the program saw only three winning seasons in its first 23 years. Fernandez's 2005-'06 team also made the program's first NCAA tournament appearance.

"I have a really good relationship with the coaches," Johnson said. "[Coach Fernandez] wants me to focus on getting my degree and everything on the basketball court will follow. We'll work hard and we want to win a Big East title and go to the NCAAs."

Johnson, No. 79 in the ESPN HoopGurlz 100 for the Class of 2009, also considered Big East teams Seton Hall and St. John's, but took her only other official visit to Atlantic 10 Conference program George Washington, located in Washington D.C. Despite being farther from home -- USF's located in Tampa, Fla. -- Johnson's not worried about being far from her family.

"I had a home visit with USF this week and had a good feeling about it," Johnson said. "But I wanted to take the visit and commit when my mom was here. … She wants me to get away from home and experience campus life."

Now, with her college choice out of the way, Johnson will turn her focus to her senior season at New York's Christ the King, where coach Bob Mackey has another solid team with a tough schedule.

"I wanted to get it over with and focus on winning a state title at Christ the King," Johnson said.

Johnson is the second verbal commitment for Fernandez's 2009 class. She joins Conner, a 5-foot-9 guard from New Jersey's Teaneck High School.

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Mindi Rice is a staff writer for ESPN HoopGurlz. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune and a barista at Starbucks, and grew up in Seattle, where she attended Roosevelt High School before graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism. She can be reached at mindi@hoopgurlz.com.