Monday, June 29, 2015

Catching up with Troy Johnson

Basketball takes its participants, including coaches, to many places. Count Troy Johnson as one of its peripatetic travellers and he's loaded up with experience and knowledge as a result. Come July 1, he'll begin as an assistant coach at University of Texas Permian Basin in the Heartland Conference.

His roundball journey began at Highland Elementary School in Inglewood, California after his father moved there from New York City. The cross-country change took place soon after Johnson's mother passed away when he was eight years old. As Johnson explained his secret, "I'm a New York City guy but I started playing in Los Angeles."

But it was back to Brooklyn -- Prospect Heights High in particular -- as a 14-year-old. Johnson played on the junior varsity team in the winter and the Midnight Express AAU squad in spring and summer. The latter alongside talents such as Stacey (Wake Forest and Central Florida) Castle, Sherwin Anderson (who later played for the Harlem Globetrotters), Conrad (Syracuse) McCrae and Crafton (New Mexico State) Ferguson.

Then Johnson tested out and transferred to Park West High in Manhattan where he again played junior varsity ball as a sophomore. That spring, he started up again with Midnight Express and also the Riverside Church Hawks.

As a junior, Johnson earned a varsity spot but the next year, "I wasn't making grades so my Dad didn't allow me to finish the season."

Next for Johnson was Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina where he played for legendary Brooklyn area basketball coach Gil Reynolds. Talents such as Bernard King, World B. Free, Fly Williams, John Salley, Charlie Scott and Chris Washburn have donned the LI uniform.

"UNC Greensboro and UNC Charlotte were looking at me but I didn't do a good job on the SAT," Johnson recalled. He returned to New York City "but I kept playing at the Brooklyn YMCA and the St. John's Recreation Center."

A few New York City basketball figures -- Sonny Lewis, Henry "Bigger" Miller and Dennis Miller -- began cajoling Johnson, telling him he needed to go to college and it worked.

"I went out to Lassen College to play for Gary Kloppenburg," Johnson recalled. "But he left and I transferred to Merritt College and Coach Maurice Compton. I played two years there and got my A.A. degree."

One night in Fresno for an All-Star game, he was shot in the knee and injured. "It was being in the wrong place at the wrong time." D1 schools lost interest but Western New Mexico University offered and Johnson went to play for Coach Troy Hudson, a former Northern Arizona basketball standout.

Johnson married and graduated in 2001 from Western New Mexico. "I knew my knee wouldn't hold up on a professional level" so he turned to coaching. "If I couldn't play anymore, I still wanted to be part of it." He loved it as much as playing.

He returned to the Bay Area and landed a job as an assistant coach to City College of San Francisco's Harry Pantazopoulos. Johnson was at the Phelan Avenue school for four years until 2005 and worked with talents such as Derrick Tarver, Christopher Adams, Robert Hayes, Mike Travis, Johnny Bryant, Harry Brown, Jamal Holden and Lex James.

A one year stint at Ohlone College with Coach John Peterson fostered an influential relationship. "Coach Peterson is my guy, my mentor -- he's like a big brother. I love him to death." Again, Johnson mentored talented prospects: "Allen Hester, Willis Gardner, Jermaine Smith, Burt Whittington and more."

Following that year in Fremont, Johnson landed the head coach position at Merritt College. "It was like coming back home." He produced a 15-15 mark followed by an 18-10 one during his 2006-2008 tenure. "We had guys like Andre Martin, Chris Busch, Matt Busch and Kerel Mitchell."

San Jose State University beckoned so he moved a bit south to become the Spartan film coordinator and assist to the director of basketball operations for Coach George Nessman.

Then it was off to Colorado State University-Pueblo "where I started recruiting type coaching." That was followed by stints at Notre Dame de Namur (2010-11), California Baptist, Tyler Junior College in Texas and Adams State (Colorado).

Now, Johnson will be working with Andy Newman at University of Texas Permian Basin in Odessa, who landed the heading coach position after 10 years at Cal State Fullerton.

"I've lived and learned a lot," Johnson said, calling his affiliation with basketball "a passion. I've gained a lot of friends and relationships by working and grinding. Hard work precedes reputation."

From playing with Crafton "Aircraft" Ferguson to coaching Martin "The Problem Child" Bonaparte, later an And1 star, Johnson has has enjoyed a spectrum of hoops involvement. As to the future, "I definitely want to be a head coach again" His time leading the Merritt program was "a tremendous experience for me." One he wouldn't mind at all repeating elsewhere as a head coach at a California community college.

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