A four-star recruit, James Johnson grew up in Cheyanne, Wyoming. The No.16 small forward in the nation chose Wake Forest University for college ball. Johnson made an immediate impact at Wake Forrest, eventually being named the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2008. James led the team in rebounding during his sophomore year, and was ranked No.1 overall.
He is a black belt in Karate and has a kickboxing record of 20–0 and has also fought in MMA.
Johnson has a tattoo of his son's name, "Naymin", inscribed around his front neck.