Ravern Johnson Hoping for a Great Second Half

Ravern Johnson's final season of high school basketball hasn't exactly gotten off to the start he hoped for, at least from a team standpoint.

Johnson, who is averaging over 23 points a game in the still-infant high school schedule, and Coahoma County are off to a 6-5 record following Tuesday's win over Shaw.

But the record can be deceiving for the defending Class 2A champions.

The early portion of the schedule has presented major battles against larger schools, including a showdown last weekend against Provine in the 10th Annual Joe Horne Christmas Classic in Columbus.

Despite 26 points from Ravern Johnson, Coahoma County fell to Provine, the defending Class 5A runner-ups, by just four points. And losing close games is something that has haunted Johnson and Coahoma County this season.

"We've had a lot of close games that we lost, games that should have not been close at all," said Johnson, who has totaled 47 points in his last two games. "We just have to learn how to finish games. That's all. That's our main problem right now, finishing games strong.

"First thing about this team is that we have to come out strong and play defense. The whole key to our game is playing good defense and good defense for four quarters."

But the upbeat Johnson sees a major silver lining to his team' somewhat slow start this year. It reminds Johnson of last year's team that struggled at the start but closed with a flurry, capturing the Class 2A crown last March.

"Last year, we started out a lot like this," said Johnson after a 67-63 loss to Provine in the Christmas Classic in Columbus. "We lost some games in the middle of the schedule but then we started learning from all our losses. So we have to pick it up like we did last year and learn from these close losses."

Against Provine and other foes this year, Johnson has been the main focus of defenses. Provine trailed Johnson with two and sometimes three guys, using physical play and a hands-on approach in attempts to slow Johnson down. If the game had been called tight, Johnson probably would have shot anywhere from 15 to 20 free throws instead of just getting 10 attempts at the charity stripe.

While the pressure on Johnson has intensified on the court, there's no recruiting pressure off the court this season.

Johnson signed with Mississippi State during the early signing period back in November.

Now the only college coaches Johnson sees in the stand is his future coaches at Mississippi State.

"Last year I was getting so many calls and talking to so many people after games," said Johnson. "But it's not like that this year, thank goodness. I am glad to see the State coaches when they watch our games and that's just like a regular thing and I feel comfortable with that. It makes me feel good to see them supporting me.

"I know I made a great decision, signing with Mississippi State and doing it early. I can't wait to get there. I like the way they are starting to play as a team right now. They are starting to play defense."

And he knows that will be a part of his game he will be expected to work on even harder than now once he's at Mississippi State.

"I know Coach Stansbury is going to stress good defense when I get there and he's always going to stress good defense," said Johnson. "When I join them and we play good defense, our offense will be there and we should be a great team for awhile."

Johnson's head coach at Coahoma County agrees with his star pupil on the hectic recruiting scene from a year ago.

Coahoma County Isaiah Peterson also had to deal with all the calls and visits concerning Johnson.

"This time last year it was crazy," said Peterson. "There were so many calls and letters for Ravern, everybody wanted to recruit him. But that's over this year and it's much more quiet for Ravern and our team."

Peterson also acknowledged that Johnson has been a pleasure to coach the past three years.

"He's a great kid," said Peterson. "You couldn't ask for a kid to be any nicer and a tougher competitor."

Despite Johnson's obvious talent on the basketball floor, Peterson strongly believes that Johnson hasn't reached his full potential.

A year ago, Johnson had the luxury of having a solid point guard in then senior Tan Calvin, who is currently playing at Arkansas Pine-Bluff.

Once he gets another solid point guard in the backcourt, Peterson noted that Johnson will shine even more. And Johnson is all-but-assured of that benefit with the likes of current Mississippi State point guards in Jamont Gordon and Ben Hansbrough.

"I think Ravern will be a much better ball player at the next level," said Coahoma County head coach Isaiah Peterson, whose son Ira played at Mississippi State. "In high school, we don't have the point guard that can free him up like we did last year.

"Last year, Tan Calvin (signed with Arkansas- Pine Bluff) was one of the best point guards in the state. He could penetrate it, kick it out and run the club. Ravern doesn't have that type of point guard this year."

But for now, Johnson is concentrating on a major aspect of his game.

"Trying to become a strong finisher," said Johnson.

As noted earlier, Johnson has kept up with the Bulldogs and their strong start to the 2006-07 campaign. He knows that most of the Bulldogs' lineup will still be in tact when Johnson officially enrolls in the summer of 2007.

Although Johnson is months away from playing his first college game at Humphrey Coliseum, he already has a message for the Bulldog basketball fans.

"When I come there, I will make the fans happy at Mississippi State," said Johnson.

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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