Learning to Fly
Feb. 7, 2005
By Lindsay Choules
In the fast-paced world of college basketball, experience and effort define a player regardless of his age. Ole Miss basketball player Justin Johnson learned this lesson early in life.
Johnson, a senior from Fayetteville, N.C., was introduced to basketball by his two older cousins when he was eight years old. He fell in love with the game and relished the challenge of playing against older more experienced players.
By the age of nine, Johnson had started playing organized basketball on rec league and AAU teams. This led him to meet his eventual prep coach Burnie Poole, who invited Johnson to come practice with his Seventy-First High School team on occasion.
"When I was younger, I was always playing against older players, which I feel really helped me improved my game," said Johnson.
By the time he reached high school, Johnson had already established a great relationship with his coach.
"Coach Poole taught me a lot," said Johnson. "He taught me to put my schoolwork first, which has really helped me in college. His wife was my English teacher, and she used to make me sit out practice if I got behind in her class."
During his senior season at Seventy-First, Johnson directed the Falcons to a 27-2 record, averaging 20.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists. That outstanding campaign catapulted the 6-foot, 180-pound guard Johnson to the college ranks and a scholarship at Ole Miss.
He joined a Rebel squad in 2001-02 that was fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance. Johnson's debut season saw Ole Miss make a return trip to the NCAA tournament, where he earned his first postseason action.
"Making the NCAA tourney was one of the greatest highlights of my career," said Johnson, who is known to Rebel players and fans as J.J. "I really hope we can make it back there this season."
That first trip to the Big Dance made Johnson realize the work ethic it would take to get back, putting in the extra hours in the gym. His dedication has improved each year, and in 2003-04, lifted him into the starting lineup, where he has remained during his junior and senior seasons.
"Justin has worked really hard this year," said Rebel head coach Rod Barnes. "He is a dedicated athlete who will be a successful person later in life. He can look back on his career at Ole Miss and realize how much it will help him throughout life."
Johnson will be able to look back at some exciting performances on the hardwood as well. Last year, he dropped in a career-high 20 points at Arkansas, and in a win over Alabama, he collected 6 steals along with 9 points.
Johnson helped Ole Miss to a season-opening victory over South Carolina State this year with 15 points. He also provided a key spurt in the road win at Auburn with 11 second-half points.
J.J. has learned a great deal from his coaches and teammates in his time in Oxford. He hopes that he and the other six seniors can provide leadership and guidance for the younger players. Rebel basketball has certainly provided that for him.
"During my years here at Ole Miss, I have learned that there is more to life than basketball, but through basketball I have learned valuable lessons about life."
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