As a kid growing up, Johnson was always around the game, playing in YMCA leagues with friends. He always felt it was a sport he could find success in, and began playing seriously his junior year of high school.
I was always pretty confident with what I could do, Johnson said. I guess the summer going into my senior year, I had a pretty good summer, and I started thinking this is something I can do as far as going to college, and who knows how far it can take me.
Johnson performed well enough during his two years of high school to garner interest from several junior colleges. After his one year stop at Northeast Mississippi CC, Johnson found him self lacing up for Alcorn State. The 65 guard had modest numbers for the Braves, averaging just over 11 points, but wasnt happy with the teams losing ways. It was at this point that Johnson made the life-changing decision to transfer to Jackson State and focus solely on basketball.
I wasnt whole heartedly into the baseball thing in anymore, he said. I had sort of shifted my focus to basketball. I played baseball at the junior college level, and when I went out and competed, I had it, but as far as practicing, I was kind of burned out. I grew up playing baseball and it was kind of like a job when I was younger, so I got burnt out on it.
The transfer to Jackson State meant a year on the bench for Johnson, but as a player who is always thinking, he quickly turned this time off into a positive.
When I transferred to Jackson St, going into the summer before the year I was sitting out, I actually prepared like I was going into a year of playing, he said. I didnt take any days off, I worked hard in the gym still like I was going to play that year, and I worked hard that year all the way through.
That alone would have been a sign of dedication from any player, but Johnson went the extra step. Still relatively new to competitive basketball, he attended every single Tiger home game and studied the game. He learned the intricacies of his new teams offense and learned the game from a whole new angle.
I was able to just play the game in my head, I wasnt able to do this before because I had to just go out and play right away, but being able to sit and learn helped me out a lot.
Armed with this newfound knowledge, and a full year of intense training under his belt, Johnson was ready to start his career at Jackson State. He didnt disappoint. As a junior, Johnson averaged 23.5 points and was 11th in the nation in scoring, while shooting a scorching 44.1% from beyond the arc. This season, Johnson upped his numbers even more, averaging 27.1 points and finishing second in the country in scoring.
With such impressive scoring performances being turned in game after game during his two years with the Tigers, many scouts and fans began to label Johnson as just another mid-major gunner, launching up shots just to keep his team in the game. As Johnson put it though, that wasnt exactly the case.
Youd be kind of surprised actually, he said. A lot of people think the offense went through me, but it actually didnt. When I first came here, we ran the same offense we had run prior to my arrival, and that was the same offense we ran during my two years. They didnt change anything, they didnt adjust anything.
The Jackson State offense according to Johnson is really more of a guideline than set plays. Players are expected to be able to make reads off of passes and cuts and run the offense based on their understanding of the game.
I feel like I have a high basketball IQ and that helped me out a lot, and I was just able to create my own shot a lot of the time, he said. It may have seemed like the offense was going through me, but at the same time when I was out of the game we ran the same offense. It was just that the things I had worked on kind of catered to that offense.
This mature understanding of the game, Johnson hopes, will catch the eye of NBA scouts and help raise his stock.
There are guys who can play basketball, and then there are basketball players, Johnson said. My coach always kind of stressed that to us. There are the guys that always want to come to the gym and just play pickup and they call themselves basketball players, but can they play the game? I always wanted to be a guy that can play the game of basketball. When somebody sees me, I might not jump out at them as a high jumper or things like that, but when they see me play, they can really appreciate what I bring to the table as far as knowing the game and how to play it.
Johnsons basketball IQ and his scoring ability have drawn comparisons from to NBA rookie Brandon Roy. While Johnson stated that he was honored just to be mentioned along side Roy, the sharp shooter likened himself to the Detroit Pistons Chauncey Billups. Both players are bigger guards that were tremendous scorers during their college careers. Billups had to deal with critics saying he wouldnt be able to transfer over from the shooting guard to the point guard position in the NBA, but he prevailed when given the opportunity. Billupss game is also very fundamental and without a tremendous amount of flash.
Thats kind of how I see myself, Johnson said. Im not a very flashy guy; Im not going to wow you with this pass or that pass; Im going to make the right pass, or Im going to make the big shot. I just look and see how Im being compared right now to these guys; I just hope that one day people will be comparing young players to me as an NBA player.
While the comparisons to current pros has been nice for Johnson, he had the opportunity to test his game against a future NBA player in the form of Corey Brewer when Jackson State met Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Though the Gators ran away with the game, winning 112-69 en route to a second straight national title, Johnson played very well against Brewer fantastic defense, scoring 21 points and dishing out 5 assists. For Johnson it was a real statement performance, proving that his scoring abilities were the real deal.
I knew it was a real good chance for me to show what I had, and kind of test out my skills not for myself, but to show scouts that Im not just scoring 27 points because I play in the SWAC or because of the competition I face. I felt like I could do that on anybody.
Towards the end of that game, Johnson landed awkwardly after a shot and tweaked his back, an injury that kept him out of the NABC All-Star Game and the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. While the rest has been necessary, it has also been irksome for Johnson who is more than ready to the draft process underway.
I grew up my whole life being that kid in the classroom when the teacher asks what you want to be when you grow up, I just knew I wanted to play professional sports, he said. It didnt matter what sport it was, that was just always my answer. I never said I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer; Ive always wanted to be a professional athlete. Its always been a dream and a goal, and now that its coming closer to reality, Im anxious. Im ready to get everything underway and done. Im ready to close one chapter and open another.
Still, with nearly two months until draft day, there is plenty of work to be done. Johnson is training six days a week, twice a day, in preparation. He has said that he is working on his entire game so that he doesnt overlook a single detail that could cost him in the eyes of the scouts. While his main goals are to improve his ball handling and extend his range, conditioning, he said, is going to be the key.
I feel like if Im in my best shape than Im going to be at the top of my game for a long time, he said.
While scoring is certainly the biggest strength in Johnsons game, he states that he thinks he can further improve his ability to free himself up for shot attempts. He also said he will be working on many of the mental aspects of his game, specifically making better reads while on the floor.
Johnson will continue to work hard with his two-a-day training sessions in preparation for his life long dream of career in professional sports. With so much to offer, it was no surprise that when asked what type of team he would be best suited for, the always confident but never cocky Johnson put it simply:
It really doesnt matter to me, I feel like I can help any team, whatever their needs may be. I think I can bring anything to the table that is needed.