Johns learns new game at Essex Former Harford Tech star more that just a scorer now

January 10, 1993|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,Staff Writer

The recognition may be overdue, but Akeil Johns of Edgewood has stepped up to play a key role in Essex Community College's winning basketball program.

The important part is that Johns, who went virtually unnoticed as the metropolitan area's leading scorer for two successive seasons at Harford Tech, is refining his game, fitting into a structured program that stresses defense.

Johns went to ninth grade at Edgewood High School and played on the JV team before transferring to the vocational school outside Bel Air. His last two years, he averaged 31 and 35 points, respectively.

In high school, he had to score 30 for his team to win, so he was always around the ball.

Now, the 6-foot-2 freshman, one of six on coach Jerry Phipps' nine-man Essex squad, finds himself studying in an academic instead of vocational setting, and playing within the framework of a team concept.

"It's a learning experience both ways," he said.

The lessons are sinking in, too. He is getting good grades and averaging 19.0 points and 7.0 rebounds for the 7-5 Knights. Among his recent basketball accomplishments was making the all-tournament team in a holiday tournament in Richmond, Va.

"In high school, I could play my way. Here [Essex CC], it is more structured, and there are more options in the offense. In high school, my brother Tykell and I were the only options," Johns said.

"The lowest total I had in high school was 14 points, so here it was a big adjustment. It was good, though, because it took the pressure off me. They don't need me to get 20 every game. Some games, I might not score, but I'll do other things.

"I still have to work more on my defense and rebounding. I know I'll make mistakes, but I'll listen. When Coach yells at me, I don't take it personal. All he's trying to do is make me better."

"Getting better" began for Johns at home, where his parents suggested he switch schools after ninth grade.

"They thought the trade school would train me and give me something to fall back on if I didn't go to college," he said. "I thank my parents for telling me, because later I got an electronics job at Edgewood Arsenal that I probably wouldn't bTC have got otherwise."

Although none of his Essex teammates was aware of his scoring heroics, others were, as he had flourished at a Five-Star summer camp and played Baltimore Neighborhood Basketball League and Project Survival ball.

Of the thoughtful, soft-spoken Johns, Phipps said: "He had to learn how to play in organized fashion. He's good and coachable and making the adjustment. Here, he knows he won't be the total force."

Terry Maczko, Johns' JV coach at Edgewood and now an Essex assistant, was active in getting Johns to go to Essex.

"The thing about Johns is that I knew I could count on his being here [academically]," Maczko said. "And in basketball, the skills are there and he wants to learn. The toughest thing is getting him to stay within the continuity of the offense. He's playing about 30-35 minutes, and we want to get him about 15 shots a game, not the 25 or 30 he got in high school."

Johns emphasizes that although basketball brought him to Essex, it is academics first, then basketball.

"I could have had a job, but I wanted to experience college, learn the job market and how it works," he said. "College basketball is a big adjustment. Mentally, I get frustrated, but I'm learning."

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