Midland is the preseason No. 1-ranked team in junior college for a reason. The Chaparrals have nine sophomores who will play Division I basketball next season, and have had college coaches from every major program attend practices this season. It's been an adjustment for Johnson in his first year at Midland because he's not the only standout on the team and all the attention is not focused on him, which is a good thing at this time in his career.
As a matter of fact, Johnson didn't start Thursday and did not enter the game until the 14:22 mark of the first half. He didn't score his first points until making a free throw with 11:15 on the clock, and didn't score his first basket until converting a traditional three-point play with 4:12 remaining in the first half.
What follows is my scouting report on Johnson from Thursday's victory in which Johnson scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and made 2 of 3 free throws, grabbed a team-high 7 rebounds, added one assist and one steal in 20 minutes of action.
1) Johnson, who turned 21 on Monday, was a man among boys against Seminole State. He is a legitimate 6-8, 225 pounds, but can play inside or outside (he attempted a pair of three-pointers but missed both).
2) He is versatile enough to guard anyone on the court, from the opponent's point guard to a bigger, taller post. One of the most impressive plays against Seminole came on the defensive end when he was guarding what I assumed would be a smaller, quicker 6-4 guard/wing. The Seminole player was attempting to get open by cutting off a number of screens but Johnson was determined to deny him the ball, hustling through and over the screens. It was an impressive play for two reasons: 1, not many big men are fast or quick enough to stay with a smaller guard/wing like Johnson did on the play, and 2, it was all about Johnson wanting to play defense because it occurred midway through the second half when the Chaps were already ahead by 30 points, and it would have been easy for Johnson to have taken the play off.
3) Offensively, he did a little bit of everything against Seminole. At one point, with the shot clock running down, Johnson hit an 18-foot fallaway jumper that hit nothing but net. Late in the first half, he filled the lane on a Midland fastbreak, received the pass and finished the play with a beautiful left-handed finger roll. In the second half, he had a pair of crowd-pleasing slam dunks off alley-oop passes from teammates, including one in which he filled the left lane on a fastbreak, took off from about 12 feet from the rim, caught the ball one-handed and slammed it home. It was the type of play that only a handful of players are capable of pulling off.
1) Johnson appeared to take some plays off throughout the game. But that's understandable when you're leading by 21 at halftime and end up winning by more than 40.
2) He picked up two offensive fouls – pushing off while trying to get position down low in the first half and lowering his shoulder while running over a defender in the second half.
3) Johnson committed two other turnovers, both on bad passes. One was when a teammate came out top and cut backdoor on his defender and Johnson's pass sailed out of bounds as his teammate went toward the goal. The other was just an overthrown pass to a teammate posting up down low.
1) Johnson said all the correct things in my 15-minute interview with him after the game. He is making the adjustment to West Texas and his new teammates, and his top priorities are leading the Chaparrals to the NJCAA national title and earning his degree so he can join the Cowboys next season. He is taking 18 hours this fall and will need an additional 11 hours in the spring to graduate from Midland.
2) I have visited with Johnson over the telephone before but this was my first face-to-face interview with him. I was impressed. He is an intelligent young man, well spoken, and very articulate. I have to admit, that's not what I was expecting from everything I've read and heard about Johnson. Midland head coach Ross Hodge, with whom I visited for about 20 minutes, said that he really likes Johnson and so does his wife, Shelly.
3) Johnson wants to play on the big stage. He is at his fifth school in five years, including his second junior college after playing last season at Moberly (Mo.) Area Community College. He knows that he has to take care of business – both on and off the basketball court – this year if he wants to join the Oklahoma State program and have his skills seen on national television. Johnson says he has learned from past mistakes and is determined to learn from them, and that motivates him to do well.
For more on Karron Johnson, make sure to pick up the next issue of Go Pokes Magazine. To subscribe, call 1-888-501-5752.