What Craig Smith sees in Runnin’ Utes signees Jaxon Johnson and David Katoa
The two local products make up Utah’s No. 48 ranked 2024 recruiting class, though it will be some time before they potentially play together
It will be a couple years before the latest Utah men’s basketball signees potentially become teammates for the Runnin’ Utes, but head coach Craig Smith identified a similar character trait between Jaxon Johnson and David Katoa.
“Both of them are winners, they impact winning in every way, shape and form,” Smith told the Deseret News on Thursday. “Both guys have always been on winning teams, and they’re great teammates, super selfless, great competitors.”
Johnson and Katoa, both local products, signed a national letter of intent with Utah this week, after the early signing period opened Wednesday. They make up a Runnin’ Utes 2024 recruiting class that is ranked No. 48 nationally by 247 Sports.
Johnson will serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before enrolling at Utah. He is expected to join the team in 2026.
Katoa, meanwhile, will join the program next fall after graduating from Layton High. He’s played most of his prep career at Utah Prep (formerly Real Salt Lake Basketball Academy) but will finish up as a senior at Layton.
Johnson is a 6-foot-8 power forward from Alta High, where last season he averaged 16.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.8 blocks per game.
He’s a near-consensus four-star recruit and rated the No. 106 talent nationally in the 2024 recruiting class in the 247 Sports’ composite rankings.
“He’s a shot maker. He’s got good length, excellent feel. One of the things maybe a little underrated with him is he can really pass the ball and make great decisions.” — Utah coach Craig Smith on Jaxon Johnson
“He’s a shot maker. He’s got good length, excellent feel,” Smith said of Johnson. “One of the things maybe a little underrated with him is he can really pass the ball and make great decisions. He’s got a super good understanding on both sides of the ball with spacing — he just understands the game that way.”
Katoa is a 6-4 shooting guard who is a Layton native and comes from a family of athletes. Last season, his year was cut short because he tore his ACL. In seven games for Utah Prep before the injury, he averaged 13.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
Katoa, who averaged 14.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.0 blocks as a sophomore, is rated the No. 7 prospect from Utah in this year’s class, per 247 Sports’ composite rankings.
“He can guard 1-2-3-4, guard almost anybody on the floor except 5s. He’s super physical and a high, high level athlete. On the offensive end, he can do everything — the 1, the 2, the 3,” Smith said of Katoa. “He brings a lot of versatility and playmaking to our team but a guy that we think can score at all three levels — get to the rim, got a good pull-up game and a guy that can make open 3s.”
When Katoa arrives on campus next fall, it’s entirely possible he joins a program where the guard lineup is stacked with experienced veterans.
Utah currently has an open scholarship spot on its roster, and only two players — all-Pac-12 center Branden Carlson and grad transfer guard Cole Bajema — will exhaust their eligibility at the end of the season.
Five other players — guards Gabe Madsen, Rollie Worster, Deivon Smith and Hunter Erickson, as well as forward Ben Carlson — are listed as seniors but could exercise the eligibility waiver from the NCAA for the COVID-19 impacted 2020 season, granting them another season.
“He can guard 1-2-3-4, guard almost anybody on the floor except 5s. He’s super physical and a high, high level athlete.” — Craig Smith on David Kotoa
One other factor to consider is how the transfer portal will impact the Runnin’ Utes next season — this past offseason, the Utes saw five players leave via the portal while bringing in four transfers.
Smith said while there’s always an adjustment phase for incoming players, particularly for freshmen, Katoa’s defensive skills could help him assimilate quicker into the college game.
“David is such an elite defender, I think he’s going to pick things up real quickly,” the coach said.
Whether it’s Katoa arriving next year or Johnson in a couple years, though, Smith likes how the pair fit what he is building at Utah.
“You always want to get good players that fit your program. We’re all about skill development and having a great culture in our program, and certainly those guys fit that,” Smith said.