Five-star headliner Joshua Christopher 'could fit in pretty well' at Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Rivals national basketball analyst Eric Bossi couldn’t put a name to the number.

As he sat and watched a game at an AAU event three years ago, there was one player who stood out above the rest. The only problem is the high schooler wasn’t listed on the roster.

“I was immediately like, ‘OK, I need to go find out who this kid is,’” Bossi recalled. “It was pretty clear that he was a guy who was going to be a national level recruit.”

That unknown player ended up being Joshua Christopher, who would go on to become a known commodity that attracted no shortage of college suitors to his door and NBA players and celebrities to his games.

Joshua Christopher is ranked the No. 3 shooting guard and No. 10 overall recruit in the 247Sports composite.

Christopher, a five-star guard out of Lakewood, California, is one of the nation’s premier prospects in the 2020 class — he's ranked the No. 7 overall recruit by 247Sports and No. 11 by Rivals — and is Michigan’s top recruiting target in a battle that includes Arizona State, Missouri, UCLA and, as of Tuesday, USC.

The Wolverines are the presumed front-runner to land Christopher, who would become the crown jewel of coach Juwan Howard’s first recruiting class and the highest-rated recruit to commit to Michigan in the 247Sports recruiting rankings era, which dates to 1999.

“The kid has always been somewhat in the spotlight and a relatively big-time name,” said Rivals national basketball analyst Corey Evans, who thought Christopher was a “phenomenal talent” the first time he saw him play in person the summer before his sophomore year at Mayfair High.

“I didn't know he'd become this good or this big of a deal over the next two, three years.”

One person who had an inkling Christopher would blow up is longtime Mayfair varsity basketball coach Tony Davis, who just completed his 13th season at the school. Davis has known the Christopher family since Joshua, the youngest of four basketball-playing siblings, was a little kid. His sister Paris played at Saint Mary’s, his oldest brother Patrick was an All-Pac-12 guard at Cal and his other brother Caleb just completed his freshman season at Arizona State.

Even though Davis didn’t start paying close attention to Joshua until he was in an organized setting in the eighth grade, Davis thought he had the potential to reach the high-major level given his family’s pedigree.

“And, obviously,” Davis said, with a laugh, “that has occurred.”

As a freshman at Mayfair, Christopher started on the varsity squad and led team in scoring at 14.4 points per game. According to Davis, Christopher was only the second or third freshman to start during his tenure and the first he counted on to score.

“I had guys who could come in and defend and score six or eight points,” Davis said, “but nobody would come in and give us that type of offensive impact right away.”

Christopher made a huge leap — from a physical and skill set standpoint — from his freshman to sophomore year as he started to take advantage of his lower-body strength. His offensive production nearly doubled, jumping to 25.9 points per game, and, as Davis puts it, “he just took off from there.”

Christopher averaged 25 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 32 games as a junior. He followed that up by averaging 29.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists over 29 games in his senior campaign.

"The last two years I think he's fallen in love with working out and being in the gym,” Davis said. “When he was younger, he didn't have that same drive, that same hunger. He would work out, but it was you having to tell him to come in.

“To see him fall in love with improving his game, whether that's physically or mentally watching film, it was a treat for me to see him grow up and understand what it took to continue to climb.”

'They're going for Josh'

By the time Christopher wrapped up his career at Mayfair, he racked up no shortage of accolades. He was named a McDonald’s All-American, a third-team All-American by Sports Illustrated and California Interscholastic Federation Division I player of the year after this past season, just to name a few. 

He also surpassed alumnus Josh Childress, a former first-round NBA Draft pick, as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,755 career points.

Christopher’s creativity, confidence and aggressive mentality make him the best scorer and player Davis has ever coached. And with his 6-foot-5, 218-pound frame, he’s able to get to the basket at will, something Davis has even witnessed against some college and professional players.

“All the defenses that we saw this year, I don't remember a game where it wasn't at least a box-and-one,” Davis said. “If not, they were running a second guy at him or running a third guy at him and he was still able to find ways to score the basketball or help a teammate get open and get them the basketball.

“I think he's a complete offensive player in this day and age.” 

Clips of Christopher’s tantalizing offensive skills have been well-documented all over the internet. Coupled with his large social media following and Syracuse-bound teammate Dior Johnson, Mayfair drew a crowd wherever it played.

According to Davis, Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, Memphis Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant and Quavo from rap group Migos were among the big names who attended a game this past season. Christopher is also close with former NBA players Nick Young and Brandon Jennings.

"He has a personality about him,” Evans said of Christopher. “I think he's someone kids want to show up and see. They're not going for the game, they're going for Josh Christopher. I think he has a personality on the floor, a bravado about him, but it also doesn't get in the way of him impacting the game. In every which way possible he's going to have a large imprint on who wins and who loses."

Bossi and Evans said Christopher could stand to improve his shot selection and shooting efficiency at the next level. His numbers saw an uptick throughout his high school career, and he shot 56% on 2-pointers and 33% on 3-pointers as a senior. Last summer on the Nike EYBL circuit, he averaged 21.4 points per game and shot 44% from the field (22.4% on 3s) in 17 games with Vegas Elite.

Bossi noted that while Christopher’s percentages weren’t the greatest, it stemmed from him having to take a lot of difficult shots because he was the one who was depended on to go get buckets.

“There's lots of high school kids that are athletic or skilled, but I think he's got a pretty versatile offensive game. It's not just a dunk or a 3,” Bossi said. “He's got a well-developed mid-range game. He does a really good job of creating for himself off the dribble and he's just so strong.

“There's not a lot of kids his age who play with the strength level that he does, and it's not like he just tries to bully guys. It's not like he just relies on being stronger than other guys, but he understands how to use his power and his strength to his advantage versus totally relying on it.”

Michigan outlook  

While Christopher is a one-on-one creator who doesn’t need a ball screen or pass to get his looks, Davis thinks his passing ability is underrated because he was relied upon to score in high school.

Same goes for his on-ball defense, which Bossi and Evans both cited as the biggest area of growth they’ve seen from him over the years. There were times at Mayfair where Christopher was asked to guard 6-6 wings on the perimeter as well as 6-10 guys in the post, and he rose to the occasion.

Joshua Christopher

“He's become a guy who can really lock down defensively when he's focused on that end,” Bossi said. “I think that's one thing that gets missed about him is he's got a chance to be every bit as good defensively as he is on the offensive end.”

Christopher projects to be a two guard in college who thrives with the ball in his hands. And while he has room to improve playing off the ball, he’s not a player who will need to curl off a bunch of screens or run through a ton of action to get open.

Bossi, Davis and Evans agree Christopher is talented enough and smart enough to walk into any team’s system and find way to make it work.

"I think Josh could fit in pretty well over there,” Davis said of Michigan. “I thought they did a good job with spacing and giving their guards room to be creative. I think Josh having the ability to play on the ball or off the ball gives him the flexibility to excel in multiple styles of play.”

Simply put, Christopher has the physical ability and mental capability to do whatever needs to be done on the floor, especially when it comes to putting up points.

No matter where Christopher chooses to go, he’s going to immediately play a major role. Evans said he couldn’t “see a world” where Christopher isn’t in the starting lineup next season, while Davis isn’t concerned about tempering expectations.

"I think he's put himself in position to be a one-and-done guy and he has the potential to be a one-and-done guy,” Davis said. “I definitely believe he has the ability to go in and be an all-conference type of guy right away, be a starter and help a team be successful."

And continue to make a name for himself.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins