Jordan Johnson waits to hear his name called by Overton coach John Woodridge. He watches most of Overton’s game with Trezevant from what has been unfamiliar territory during his young career — the bench.
Johnson checks in during a short stretch in the third quarter. The freshman point guard plays his role, does just what he’s asked to do, which is mainly give the Wolverines’ starting point guard a breather. In his four minutes, he doesn’t commit a turnover. He plays good defense. He gets a steal. He also gets an assist. One thing he doesn’t do is shoot the ball — a big change from what he been accustomed to.
Last year, at Sherwood Middle School, Johnson was a gunner, his light kryptonite green. His aerodynamic fro-hawk fade hair cut fits the look of his shot, high and dynamic. He was also a starter while playing AAU ball with Team Penny 14 & Under over the summer. Without question, he’s a shooter, a good shooter. But high school ball is different. “It’s been real hard,” Johnson says. “In middle school you can get away with a lot of stuff. In high school, you have to be more physical and stronger and mentally stronger.”
Although Johnson has struggled at times, he is making strides, thanks to three men in his life: Chris Adams, Jerry Hurt, and Mingo Johnson.
Saturday afternoon, while Overton is playing Trezevant in a jamboree game at East High School, Chris Adams, who coached some of the players on the court during their middle school careers, including Johnson, is there as a spectator and a cheerleader. He likes to keep up with his former players.
Sunday afternoon, Adams watches the Memphis Tigers women’s team play Minnesota at Elma Roane Fieldhouse. He’s there to witness the progress of Memphis players Mooriah Rowser, Damonique Miller, and Courtney Powell, players he has trained during the off-season.
After the Memphis game, Adams heads to Sherwood Middle School, where he coaches the boys’ varsity squad. On Sundays, just before the light outside fades, he opens the gym to work out some of his former players. Johnson is one of them.
“I’m trying to make sure they have a good work ethic,” says Adams, who prepped at Melrose and played college ball at Southwest Tennesssee Community College and Fisk University. “Make sure they always go hard.”
To start the workout, Adams makes the players go through dribbling drills. He puts a chair to the right of the free throw line. Players have to dribble up to the chair, change direction, and then either go to the bucket or pull up for a jumper. He increases the degree of difficulty by adding another chair, and having the players dribble between their legs to pass one, then at “game speed,” behind-the-back, then back-to-front dribble between the legs to get past the other.
Adams says he wants Johnson to continue to perfect his jump shot and mid-range game. They've had the same Sunday routine for the past three years.
“Coach Chris, he knows what he’s talking about,” says Johnson. “And I know he can help me improve my game, to get me to the next level.”
Joining Johnson in the gym Sunday is Jerry Hurt, Overton’s starting point guard. Hurt, a senior, has taken Johnson under his wing. Adams coached Hurt at American Way Middle. Hurt, like Adams, is interested in Johnson’s growth. He wants to end his high school career with a bang, a trip to the Murfreesboro to play for a state championship. He believes Johnson could help the cause.
“He’s very good,” Hurt says. “He’s just got to learn to get focused before games. He likes to play around, because he’s a freshman. He likes to joke around when everybody is trying to take it seriously.”
Johnson also has to become a better distributor. The 5'8” Johnson has always been called upon to score first; now he’s being asked to get his teammates more involved, which Hurt and Adams both believe he can do with Hurt as a mentor.
It's easy to understand why Jordan Johnson has developed such a good outside shot. His father is former University of Memphis Tiger guard, Mingo Johnson, who hit 153 three-pointers at Memphis, despite playing only two seasons at the school in the mid-1990s.
Mingo is his son’s hero. He not only fostered his son’s interest in basketball, he served as an assistant coach on Jordan’s AAU team. Mingo knows his son has a long journey, but says Jordan is off to a good start. “I was telling someone the other day that (Jordan) was much better than I was at the same age,” says Mingo. That is where father and son disagree.
Jordan, who has studied his father’s college and high school game tapes for years, says his dad’s scouting report is a bit inaccurate. “I think I’m close to where he was (as a freshman) but I’ve still got a lot more to get to,” says Jordan.
It is a tough comparison, because Mingo was a point guard in high school who made the transition to shooting guard in college. His son is a shooter hoping to transform to a point guard.
“Jordan’s game is different,” says Adams. “Mingo was bigger. Jordan has a point guard’s body.”
Mingo is also a better outside shooter — still. Jordan and Mingo play one-on-one and unfortunately for Jordan, the results are always the same. “He still beats me,” Jordan admits. And Papa Johnson does not use his size to do it (Mingo is 6-2). “Just his shot and his handles” Jordan adds.
Still, Jordan has made progress. He logged about 15 minutes in Overton’s game against Oakhaven. Adams was there and he was pleased with what he saw and offered encouraging words for his former student-athlete. “I told him to be patient,” he said. “Your time will come.” And when it does, hopefully he’ll be ready to effectively run an offense — and maybe even beat his old man. n
You can follow Jamie Griffin on twitter @flyerpreps.