After time off, Southern's Hemsley ready to take on Classic challenge All-star game caps season for Miami-bound forward

April 10, 1996|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Under heavy scrutiny as one of the nation's best players, Southern High's Johnny Hemsley led the Bulldogs to the 4A state crown and a No. 10 national ranking this past winter. And afterward, he took a sabbatical from basketball.

Time off has worked wonders for Hemsley's enthusiasm, as evidenced by his all-out efforts in recent practices heading into tonight's Capital Classic at USAir Arena.

"Defense, rebounding, diving for balls, bringing it up the court -- I'm all over the place," said Hemsley, who will sign with the University of Miami today as the NCAA's spring signing period for basketball players begins. "It's an event with a lot of history. [Michael] Jordan only scored 14 points when he played in it. But for me, it's like any other game I play in: I want to win, so I'm going to come out and work hard for that to happen."

As a forward at Southern, Hemsley (6 feet 5) averaged 17.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.1 steals, just 1.9 turnovers a game. He shot 74 percent from the line, 53 percent from the field.

Unlike his junior year, when his scoring numbers soared, Hemsley was more of a floor leader this past season, said Southern coach Meredith Smith. Occasionally, he was overshadowed by other area players, said Smith, who called it vindication that Hemsley is the only metro area pick in the 23rd-annual event, slated for 8 p.m., after the 6 p.m. Scholarship Game for lesser-known seniors.

"Obviously somebody's looking at something besides scoring statistics, like the fact that he was the most highly recruited basketball player from this area, or that he led his team to its third state title in four years," Smith said.

"Johnny didn't just focus on points, otherwise, he'd averaged over 30, close to 40. He slashes to the basket, can shoot the jumper, has great leaping ability and body control. He's the entire package."

Hemsley's athleticism comes honestly. His father, Richard, was a high school baseball and basketball player. His brother Nathaniel, 22, played linebacker for Syracuse in the Gator Bowl.

Johnny, the fifth born of seven boys, was a promising Little League pitcher and an above-average hitter in his native Trenton, N.J. The family moved to Baltimore when he was 7, and basketball stole his heart.

"I still have newspaper clippings from when he was small," said Karen, whose son discovered basketball at nearby Greenmount recreation center.

Though California, Pitt and Miami were in the running for Hemsley's talents well into January, speculation had Hemsley choosing Georgetown or Maryland.

Many surmised Hemsley was a better prospect for Maryland, which lost four seniors, while the Hoyas had freshman Victor Page at shooting guard -- the most favorable college post for Hemsley.

Yet those who were surprised he chose Miami, "didn't know the things I know, meet the people I met, or feel the feelings I felt," Hemsley said.

"Choosing a college wasn't about the NCAA tournament, going to the NBA, girls or the weather," said Hemsley. "I chose Miami because I felt as comfortable with the coaches as I did with the players.

"I talked to academic advisers about me, personally, and about my life and future, because when I go to college, I'm going to be totally focused on my schoolwork and being the best player I can be."

Hemsley tried to make that point during a press conference last month, expressing gratitude toward the people who helped him to make his decision.

"I thought about all the strong people who helped guide me and cared about me -- Coach Smith, my parents, my brother Nathaniel. Then the thoughts of my cousin and close friend, Jerome Willingham, just popped in there. He died in a car accident two years ago," said Hemsley. "The whole moment was just a big release, but not because I've lost any respect for the other programs that recruited me. . . . I'm 100 percent satisfied with my decision."

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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