Meadville Tribune

Jamestown’s star looks to life off the hardwood

With the exception of current Franklin basketball coach Bill Hager, who coached him at Jamestown, NY last season, Justin Johnson was nothing more than a name to most of those seeing him Tuesday night in the 34th annual Elks Tournament.

So Johnson introduced himself. Hello (three-pointer). Nice to see you (driving layup). Fabulous uniform you have there (steal and finger roll). Thirty-two points, nine rebounds and a few blocks, assists and a 71-56 Jamestown victory over Delta (Hamilton) later, the 6-foot-8 senior had the full attention of the House of Thrills crowd, not to mention that of Meadville coach Norm Price, whose Bulldogs took on the Red Raiders in Wednesday night’s championship.

“We don’t have anybody to play with Johnson,” Price said. “I was amazed at his shooting. Boy, he was a good shooter.” He couldn’t shoot without the ball, however. Johnson scored 18 points Wednesday night, enough to make the all-tournament team, but not enough to hold off Meadville’s 45-39 victory.

The Bulldog’s (6-2) did what no other team has this season; hold Johnson to fewer than 29 points. Averaging nearly 35 ppg. Johnson set a school single game scoring record with 50 points last week.

“Our offense is built around him, who’s kidding who?” said Jamestown coach Ron Frederes, who left Walsh College in Canton Ohio to coach the Raiders (4-3) this year. “He’s an outstanding player.”

Most everyone seems to think so.

“I’ve been out scouting, seen nice players,” said Frederes, who was also the head coach at Alfred University and Davidson Community College.
“Justin’s got a nice package. He’s a big man that’s got a nice touch from the outside. He plays hard inside of six feet, too.”

He displayed all his wares against Delta, opening the game with one of his three three-pointers, then contributing three steals, five rebounds and two assists-in the first quarter. By the half, he had 24 of Jamestown’s 44 points.

Against Meadville, he scored 10 points-six in the first quarter-as the Raiders held on one-point halftime lead. The Bulldogs shackled him in the third, much as Delta did in the same period Tuesday, then withstood his eight fourth-quarter points for the victory.

Without Johnson, the Raiders would have been hard pressed to stay in the game against the Bulldogs - or any opponent-Frederes said.

“Without him we would be a shell of what we are,” he said. “We know how good he is, and I don’t think my other kids have started to play off of him. “Not that I expect it of him every night. He’s just playing good ball. He’s going to the basket, he’s shooting very well.”

Shooting for the stars, maybe, Johnson, closing in on Jamestown’s career scoring record, had his choice of colleges entering his senior year. The Army basketball team hasn’t had its share of national prominence since Kevin Houston led the nation in scoring in 1987 at 32.9 ppg but now it has Johnson to look forward to.

What Johnson looks forward to however, is life off the court.

“I wanted to go to a very prestigious academic school,” he said. “I had a big list at the beginning and I cut it down to West Point, Air Force and the University of Vermont. “I just liked the coaching staff, the school, and I have a guaranteed job when I graduate.”

What seemed guaranteed after Johnson’s performance on Tuesday was the tourney MVP award, instead, it deservedly went to Meadville point guard Jerry Ambooken, who hit foul shot after foul shot down the stretch to keep the Bulldogs ahead to stay.

Johnson couldn’t stay, not with the bus waiting to haul the Raiders back to Jamestown. But it’s fair to say that he’s now more than a name to area fans, albeit a much nicer name than if the Raiders had won the tournament.

Matt Martin is a sports writer for the Meadville Tribune.

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