Basketball prospers on the shoulders of star

"More heart than feelings" is tattooed in cursive across his chest and along his collarbone.

“Angie,” his mother’s name, is in cursive on the right side of his chest atop his heart.

A holy cross with a king’s crown hanging on it is inked onto his left bicep.

Redshirt junior forward Jer'Vaughn Johnson, a 6-foot 6-inch and 240 pound Afro-American studies major, is respected for his candor off the court and his austerity on.

His ability to make smart moves in games, guard and share the ball are just some of the reasons why he is the starting power forward on the men’s Titan basketball team.

Johnson showed signs of being an outstanding player back at Avalon Garden Elemnatry school in Compton.

He lived in an area that was overrun by a ruthless gang called the 135th Street Piru.

Johnson said it was his mother and the game of basketball that kept him out of trouble. He never met his father.

“Single mother – typical black family,” he said. “My mom is my rock. She is my everything. If it weren’t for her, like I said, I don’t know where I’d be. She kept my head on straight.”

Johnson was more interested in meeting with the guys playing basketball in his neighborhood than the kids trying to be gangsters.

He stayed on the basketball courts year-round.

Even when his peers would play football in the fall, Johnson continued to work on his basketball game until his friends came back to the court.

Johnson’s passion for basketball led him to four years of varsity basketball at Centennial High School from 2002-06.

In his senior year, he achieved what he considers his biggest accomplishment as an athlete – he and his team won the CIF championship against Harvard-Westlake School.

“It was the best day of my life,” he said. “And all I remember about that day is the last play.”

In the last play of the game, Johnson’s friend, Tariq, caught an inbound pass. He dribbled up the court and to the right. He pulled up and swished a three-pointer from the top of the key to win the game.

“It was a buzzer-beater. And it was so real because we were playing Harvard-Westlake and they beat us all my years there.”

After high school, Johnson was accepted to San Diego State University in 2006.

In January of his sophomore year at SDSU, Johnson averaged 1.8 points, 1.6 rebounds, playing eight minutes a game – a surprising abatement from his averages of 20 points and 12 rebounds per game in high school.

SDSU Head Coach Steve Fisher just wasn’t playing Johnson.

According to Johnson, Fisher said that Johnson was working hard, doing all the things he needed to.

Fisher didn’t know why he wasn’t playing Johnson.

Unsatisfied with his answer, Johnson decided the best thing he could do was leave.

CSUF Assistant Coach Scott Waterman said Johnson had his release paperwork sent here, and when SDSU officially released Johnson, Waterman and Titan Head Coach Bob Burton recruited him.

“Jer’Vaughn Johnson on the court is a competitor,” Waterman said. “He’s one of our toughest players. Off the court, he’s got a tremendous character. He really defines what a student athlete is.”

In a game this season against his old SDSU team,   CSUF Associate Head Coach Andy Newman said that Johnson played terrific considering that he was going back to where he started his collegiate career.

Johnson is in 29.3 minutes a game in his first year as a Titan and has averaged 11 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

His career-highs are 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Johnson said the reason his game averages appear half as impressive now compared to his statistics in high school is because there is more talent to share the ball with at CSUF.

“Four and five guys here average double figures,” Johnson said. Back in high school, those sort of numbers were only shared by him and one other player.

Johnson recalled a bittersweet moment when the Titans faced Long Beach State on Jan. 7. Rod Palmer, who was Johnson’s coach at Centennial, was now an assistant coach at LBSU.

“We talked a little bit before the game,” Johnson said. “I obviously got love for him. But I wanted to beat him all the same.”

The Titans then went on the defeat LBSU.

Johnson has developed a bond with his teammates after being a redshirt in the 2008-09 season. Johnson and Titan sophomore guard Jacques Streeter were roommates last summer.

“JV (Jer’Vaughn) on the court plays with a lot of passion,” Streeter said. “I would describe him like a lion in a jungle. He goes after what he wants.”

Johnson said he is going to try to make it in the NBA, but if basketball doesn’t work out, he will use his Bachelor’s degree to work with and help youth in the inner-city.

If social services doesn‘t work out, then he’ll be what his mother said she wants him to be – a firefighter.