A long time ago in a gymnasium nearby — a friend was in a bind and he looked to me for some help. I was on the fence at first. So I'd been away from the game for almost a year and I actually enjoyed my first undefeated season sitting in the stands. But I missed coaching. I quickly talked things over with my lovely bride and agreed to take the St. John Neumann Regional Academy Boys Junior High Hoops job. Glad to have you onboard Spence. Practice starts Monday.
Several questioned why I got back into coaching, especially at that level, and to be completely honest — I had no answers. It was quite different, but I was extremely grateful for the new friendships and memories we shared that season some five years ago. It was fun, and now those kids are driving cars. I won't get into the specifics. Perhaps that’s another story for another column. But it was in that gymnasium where I first met this very tall and talented young lad. He was just a lanky 6’5” junior back then. #transition.
The SJNRA 7th and 8th grade FRAGGLES finished up their very first ‘workout’ and I looked defeated. Coach Paul Pectavage then introduced me to some of his varsity players who were patiently waiting on the side. I've already seen most of them in action and I was impressed with one kid in particular. We got to talking and then I challenged him to game of HORSE. I simply crushed him that first go around. Of course we would play before practice many more times. He wasn't allowed to dunk so I won most. But not anymore — as this high school great continues to improve his game.
Alize Johnson of the Missouri State Bears now stands an impressive and athletic 6'9. He is coming off a truly breakthrough season where he earned himself first team Missouri Valley Conference honors. Johnson averaged 14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game as a junior. What a stud.
He led the Missouri Valley in rebounding and double-doubles also finishing in the top 15 nationally in each category. That's Division I kids. His improved outside shooting has also turned some heads. Johnson knocked down 40 triples at a 39 percent clip beyond the arc. Alize's stock is definitely rising and the former St. John Neumann superstar recently declared for the NBA draft.
Johnson might be a long shot in this year's draft and he plans to return to Missouri State for his senior campaign — and by not signing with an agent, he will be able to do so. Alize is free to test the waters. It's a no brainier. He was in Massachusetts this past weekend as he had an individual workout with the Boston Celtics. Say what?
I reached out to congratulate Alize, fearing he wouldn't remember me. But his response, "Thanks Coach. My man. How's the family?" made my year. I actually screen-shotted it and put it in a frame.
"I’m very excited for the opportunity," Johnson texted. "This has been a dream. I am keeping an open mind and looking for ways I can improve my game. I have every intention on coming back to school, but this a great way for me to see where I need to be."
Alize Johnson continues to amaze. His hard work and determination is paying dividends. He is a great young lad with a terrific smile. Johnson wasn't highly recruited out of high school. He took the road less traveled. Played two seasons at a junior college in Texas. Many folks didn't give Alize a chance, but now the tall lanky kid I used to play HORSE with is working out for NBA scouts. Props kid. Rematch soon? #cheers