Johnson's chance comes to pass

February 27, 1994|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

In one game, a pass bounces off Ronnie Johnson's head and into his hands. In the next one, Larry Brown is struck in the mouth, but also gathers the ball before it hits the court.

Both Annapolis players scored. Both incidents demonstrate the importance of being alert when point guard Juan Johnson is directing the offense.

"You've got to keep your eyes open," said coach John Brady. "Juan's not looking to see if you're looking at him."

Instead, the 6-foot-1 senior is concentrating on finding the open man and getting him the ball. And with the necessary velocity.

Heads up.

"I can't say he's the best point guard we've ever had," Brady said, "but as far as passing goes, he's the best passer we've ever had."

And he isn't even a starter.

Johnson usually comes off the bench at the four-minute mark of the first quarter, relieving junior Teshawn Cooper. Their playing time is equal. It's all part of the master plan, which normally leaves opponents gasping for air and at the short end of the score.

"Cooper really gets us off to a fast start. He forces the pace of the game offensively and defensively. He ignites us, if you will," Brady said.

"When Coop has them worn down, Juan comes in and delivers the knockout."

Enough teams have hit the canvas to elevate Annapolis into the metro area's No. 3 ranking. The Panthers secured the top seed in theClass 4A, East Region playoffs, giving them the inside track for a berth in the state tournament in College Park.

It would be Johnson's first trip to the final four, and would give him important added exposure with college coaches.

"He's one of the best-kept secrets on the East Coast," Brady said.

And here's part of the reason.

Johnson, 18, didn't play last season because, as Brady put it, "certain [academic] expectations were laid out at the beginning of the year, and he didn't meet those expectations. He wasn't the only one; he wasn't being singled out."

Johnson wasn't academically eligible at the beginning of practices in November, and though he later brought his grades up enough that he could have joined the team in January, Brady wouldn't allow him back. And that turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to Johnson.

"If I wanted to go to college, I had to get my grades together," said Johnson, who is averaging more than 10 points and seven assists a game. "I was mad a little bit, coming to the games and watching them play and wishing I was out there, but that made me get my stuff together. And when I came out for my senior year, I was strong and ready to play.

"He taught me a lot of stuff in basketball and about my attitude. He's like a guidance counselor here, as a teacher and a coach. We're like friends, really."

Brady said, "It was a decision I didn't want to make, but I felt that I couldn't set boundaries and then change them if faced with a tough decision. I'm concerned with more than just what goes on on the basketball court. I'm concerned with what happens down the road."

Now, Johnson is doing "very well in the classroom," Brady said, and he will take the Scholastic Assessment Test in April. That will help to determine where he goes to school.

"It doesn't matter, as long as I play," said Johnson.

Brady said, "He's a Division I player. I'll tell you right now, he's going to be playing basketball in college next year, either at a well-established junior college program or straight to Division I."

Johnson scored 22 points in wins over Arundel, Southern and Meade, and Brady said, "If he does that, fine. He makes good choices when he decides he's going to score; he doesn't force it. But that's not his primary role. It's to set everybody else up, and he does that very well."

He also has accepted not being on the court at the beginning of each game. At least he's not sitting in the stands, watching and wishing.

"I like coming off the bench," said Johnson, a three-year starter at quarterback on Annapolis' football team who passed for 1,739 yards and 27 touchdowns. "When one of us gets tired, we know we've got somebody right behind us."

Not that Johnson would ever admit to being tired. He won't let anyone or anything get the best of him.

"He's extremely competitive," Brady said. "Sometimes people misread that emotion on the floor and look at it as maybe being temperamental, and that's not it at all. He plays to win and that's a great quality to have. You want somebody out there competing."

Even if it's only for half the game.

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