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BOYS' PREP BASKETBALL: North Hardin's Greg Johnson looking to make up for lost time (08/14)

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By Greg Crews

 

By GREG CREWS gcrews@thenewsenterprise.com RADCLIFF — Greg Johnson feels like he’s been robbed of an entire season. Confusion and complications stemming from Johnson’s transfer from John Hardin High School to North Hardin during his freshman year left him one credit shy of his sophomore requirement and made him ineligible for his junior basketball season. “That first home game last season was tough,” said Johnson, who watched the game from the sideline. “We were playing (Louisville DuPont) Manual High School. I actually cried that game. I was just so frustrated. “Before I even got to high school everyone told me your junior year was the most important year to have scouts look at you,” he added. “I guess I’m just glad it wasn’t my senior year though, because now I have a chance to come back.” And it appears that Johnson is ready to make the most of that chance. Last month at the Rick Bolus Blue Chip basketball camp at Georgetown College, Johnson stole the show. Out of 455 campers, Johnson was named camp MVP, division MVP, All-Star game runner-up MVP and slam dunk contest champion. “Before I went up to the camp I just kept dreaming about what I was going to do,” Johnson said. “I was planning out my dunks for the slam dunk contest and I was thinking about how I was going to play in the games. I wanted to play hard, but I didn’t want to try too hard to impress the scouts.” Whatever Johnson did, it seemed to work. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged over 30 points per game, helping him earn an invitation to Western Kentucky University’s All-Star camp last weekend. It also helped him grab the attention of several colleges and plenty of bloggers, who tore up online message boards with their opinions of Johnson. However, there was at least one group that wasn’t surprised by Johnson’s showing: the North Hardin coaching staff. “Greg averaged over 10 points a game for us as a sophomore and he probably would have been our best player last season,” North Hardin coach Ron Bevars said. “He is a very talented player. His success is not a surprise.” Without Johnson, the Trojans managed to go 21-8 last season, while accruing the third best record in the 5th Region. But Bevars said the loss of Johnson was still felt. “It was a huge blow,” he said. “Anytime you take who you think your best player is off the team, it’s big. But when the train leaves the station you have to get on and Greg couldn’t get on last season.” Since then, Johnson has gone to summer school to catch up and has plotted out his class schedule with advisors to make sure he will be eligible to play once again. But Johnson has not only been playing catch-up in the classroom. Over the past year, Johnson has stepped up his training; lifting weights, drinking protein shakes and even wearing a 40-pound weight vest while practicing alone in the gym. “I actually saw a commercial a long time ago with Shawn Marion dunking in one of those (weight vests),” Johnson said, referring to a 2006 ad by Nike. “I wanted to do what the pros do so I started wearing one.” The results of the vest and the rest of Johnson’s training seem to be showing. While Johnson said he can barely dunk with the vest on, without it he has a vertical leap of 36 inches and can throw down a variety of slams. He has also added between 20 and 25 pounds since his sophomore campaign and is now tipping the scales at 180 pounds. “It makes a big difference,” he said. “I can go into the paint strong and move people with my body instead of it being me that gets pushed around.” Now, with four starters returning from last year, and a bigger, stronger Johnson back after having improved in “every aspect” of his game, the Trojans may come into the season as region favorite. But with eight of their top nine players currently spending their time on the football field rather than the basketball court — including Johnson, who is playing football for the first time since eighth grade — Bevars isn’t about to make such lofty predictions. “We are definitely going to be an athletic team, but there are plenty of athletic teams that can’t win and there are plenty of teams that don’t have many athletes that do win,” Bevars said. “We have good athletes, but they have to become good basketball players.” Bevars said that applies to Johnson, too. “Greg is way behind fundamentally in basketball,” Bevars said. “The upside of Greg Johnson is huge, but he needs to work on fundamentals. … The sky is the limit with him. He could be a major college basketball player if he works hard enough.” So far, Johnson said he has been in talks with Georgetown College, Morehead State University and several small colleges, and has had a phone conversation with Southern Illinois University. However, before Johnson can get too worried about college, he knows there are more pressing matters at hand. Last season Johnson watched helplessly as North Hardin was upset in the 17th District Tournament quarterfinals by Elizabethtown. This year, he is envisioning a different ending. “It feels good to be back, but I feel bad for (Maurice) Gosa and (Jerome) Draper because that was their senior year,” he said. “I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but I feel like if I was there for them, it might have been different. I wouldn’t want my senior year to end like that. Especially losing to E’town.” Now, reunited with his teammates, Johnson is better and more driven than ever and he is counting down the days to tip-off of the season — exactly 80 days away. “I’m playing with a chip on my shoulder this season,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to every matchup. “Hopefully I’ll be one of the best kept secrets in Kentucky. I don’t want people to know about me. I want to surprise them.” Greg Crews can be reached at 505-1754