Cameron Johnson pursues his basketball breakthrough

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Cameron Johnson may not have won the $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot, but he undoubtedly drew the winning number at the genetic lottery.

Culminating at a dizzying 6’4”, Johnson, 19, has inherited from a fine-tuned combination of his parents’ genes. His father is a former NFL player, Mario Johnson, of the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets and New England Patriots. His mother conducts a career of basketball coach. Hence, little wonder that Johnson has been brilliantly juggling these two sports since a young age.

In addition, his parents have also transmitted him values contributing to the fulfilment of a sportsperson.

Photo Courtesy of CofCSports.com
Photo Courtesy of CofCSports.com

“The biggest thing they taught me about is competition. Never give up, keep going after, and persevere. My dad has been great at every level, so he knows how to work; he knows what ‘dedication’ means. The same goes with my mom: as a coach, she puts these values into practice with her teams, and I acquired them over time. Of course, it helps that I received good genes – the athleticism, naturally, but what stands out is the mental aspect they have been conveying to me since day one.”

With the dual identity of a standout quarterback – he was considered as the second best in his conference – and a clutch guard – he averaged 21.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a senior, Johnson had plenty of college coaches all googly-eyed. However, Johnson faced a dilemma in choosing one sport to focus on fully over the other.

“It was tough, but it was not a last-minute decision,” he recalls. “The summer going into my senior year of high school, I had a breakaway in basketball. I started to draw a lot of interest, my family and I talked a lot about it, and that is just where my heart told me to go. I guess I chose basketball because I had of success in it, and I felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Nevertheless, Johnson did not suddenly consign his football strengths to oblivion.

“Coming in as a freshman, I was already physically ready. I had the body, I could take blows, and it helps a lot at the collegiate level considering how bigger the guys are. Some of them are 25, and I was only 18. Football definitely got my body ready for the upper level.”

After high school, Johnson chose at the drop of a hat College of Charleston over the likes of Mississippi State, Florida Atlantic, South Alabama and Radford. And what tipped the scales toward the Cougars was the presence of Joe Chealey among the team – a long-time friend of Johnson, and a genuine role model for him.

“When I got here, Joe Chealey and the coach influenced me greatly, and I just felt like my best chance for success would be with these guys – especially Joe. I knew he would push me more than anybody during the four years I would be here. He was my host when I got here, and he had a great influence on the reason I came, because in view of the three years we spent together, I knew he would help me become the best person I could be, on and off the court.”

Johnson kicked off his college career unabashedly, taking part in all 33 games of the season and accruing the team’s best three-pointers percentage (38.9%, 35/90) as soon as during his freshman year. Unsurprisingly, when asked about how he hit his marks that quickly, Johnson refers once again to his mentor.

“It had a lot to do with Joe,” he said. “He pushed me so well. I felt like he was the best guard I have ever played against, so when I got to play against other opponents, it did not feel as hard. A lot of kudos to him for that.”

Since the start of this season, Johnson deservedly has drawn boatloads of fans to TD Arena’s bleachers and aroused praise from his coach, Earl Grant.

“Cameron is a good player. He can shoot the ball, he is athletic and he is a very good on the ball defender,” Grant said. “He can get up and down the floor and make plays. Over the past season, he has become more consistent with his shooting and has improved his ability to create for himself and others. If he has an area where he needs to improve upon, it is his ball-handling, especially with his off-hand, but that will come.”

This past summer, Johnson, who can be depicted as a workhorse, put an emphasis on that particular matter of priority. It took his game a notch higher; nonetheless, he leaves no room for complacency.

“My ball-handling has improved exponentially, but I do not think it is where it needs to be; my shooting has improved, but it is not where it needs to be. I can still make progress. My next focus will be on my decision-making.”

To tweak his game, Johnson does not hesitate to take a leaf out of NBA players’ books.

“I do not have a favorite team, but I like watching certain players like Russell Westbrook or LeBron James – dynamic players. Two other players particularly inspire me. The first one is Jimmy Butler: he has worked really hard to get to where he is now, to the All-Star status. He started with defense, and now he is doing his offensive game. I just kind of model my game after him. The second one is Tony Allen – I have a lot to learn from his defensive game.”

Charleston is off to their best start to the season in four years – they are a convincing 12-7 – Johnson does not keep in mind any red-letter day thus far. Not even the night the Cougars sent LSU and the-kid-even-President-Obama-talks-about packing.

Photo courtesy of CofCSports.com
Photo courtesy of CofCSports.com

“LSU was a big win, and with arguably the best player in college basketball – Ben Simmons – on the court, the hype around it made it more than I thought that was,” he said. “That was just a game, we won it, but we have been playing closer games, we have been battling harder, and I think those tight games are the games where highlights really come out because they really show what type of player I actually am.”

With Cougars’ top-scorer Canyon Barry out the remainder of the season due to an aching shoulder, Johnson could be expected to take an increasing prominence within the locker room. Notwithstanding this, he humbly refutes the idea of a brutal change in status.

“I always felt like I was one of the leaders of the team. There will – maybe – be a little more of scoring from my hand, because Canyon was just a scoring machine, but that is all. Canyon was a leader and he still is, even though he is not on the court. He is always in the locker room, he is there at every practice. Him, Joe Chealey, Grant Riller, James Bourne (Editor’s note: they are all currently injured), they are helping us with their voice more than with their bodies. Even though I am taking more of the leader role on the court, my role off the court as far as being a leader is still the same.”

Eighteen months into his college basketball career, Johnson, whose major is business, has already gotten his money worth.

“For sure, it is going way too fast. I have enjoyed the one and a half year I have had so far, and I feel it can only get better because the team is getting better, we are growing together, coach Grant has established his system, and he told us a couple weeks ago that there were a lot of ‘firsts’ going on in the CAA conference for us: we got our first win at Towson, we were close to get our first win at Drexel… That is what I take from everything so far: continue to grow, continue to win games, and the year after, and the year after that when I am a senior, there will be growth because I will work as hard as this summer. Right now, I am just enjoying the process.”

If Cameron Johnson continues on the path he has set forth on, the Cougars are sure to continue their recent success.

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