BASKETBALL

Arizona basketball: Dad wants Johnson to be complete ballplayer

2012-03-04T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T10:46:19Z Arizona basketball: Dad wants Johnson to be complete ballplayerBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 04, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Every summer, every spring break, every Christmas break, during elementary and middle school, Nick and Chris Johnson would leave Phoenix for Los Angeles to execute the same drills.

Ballhandling. Shooting. Running. Passing.

But no jumping. And no dunking.

Their father, who ran the drills, figured they didn't need to worry about that. That's because he is "Jumping" Joey Johnson, the former 6-foot-4 ASU human pogo stick who once made the Guinness Book of World Records for dunking on an 11-foot-7 hoop.

It was a nice bit of recognition for a player who spent most of his professional career in far-flung countries around the world, but it was also, Joey Johnson found, a bit limiting.

He did not want his sons to fall into the same category.

"He used to get mad when I would just dunk," said Nick Johnson, a UA freshman guard who will play against his father's old school today at Wells Fargo Arena. "He heard for so many years that that's all he could do, so he tried to refine my skills from Day 1.

"It was about just being a complete player. Over summer we'd have to shoot 1,000 jump shots a day, do ballhandling drills, stuff like that. He just didn't want to see what happened to him happen to us."

What happened to Joey Johnson was that after a college career that included stops at the College of Southern Idaho and ASU (where he started and averaged 7.9 points in 1987-88), he played professionally in places such as Sweden, the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Having grown particularly fond of Sweden, Joey Johnson couldn't complain.

"It was always fun traveling and get to do what I wanted to do - which was play basketball," he said.

But Joey Johnson also wondered if it could have been better, if he wasn't pigeonholed from a young age as a kid who played opposite post players because he could match them in the air, a kid who never fully developed his perimeter skills.

"I'm 6-4 but I played out of position a lot because I can jump," Joey Johnson said. "I could play against 6-8, 6-9 guys, battle with them and still come out playing pretty well. But I tell Nick and his brother, 'You have to have a well-rounded game.' So we worked on a lot of other things besides jumping. We really didn't work on that. It was just there."

That was only part of their education. Nick and Chris both grew up in Tempe, Phoenix and Gilbert with their mother, Michelle Moyland, before leaving home to play elite-level high school basketball.

Chris Johnson, who plays for former UA interim head coach Russ Pennell at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, spent a fifth year of high school at Connecticut's South Kent School, while Nick spent his junior and senior years of high school at Findlay Prep in Southern Nevada.

By then, at age 16, Nick Johnson already had the maturity necessary to handle the intense year-round focus on basketball, instead of hanging out with friends, going to proms and being a normal high school student at Gilbert Highland, where he went as a freshman and sophomore.

"There was an adjustment at the start but he's not the kind of kid who says, 'I'm homesick,'" Moyland said. "He was the kind of kid who if he said he would do something, he'd do it. They started practicing immediately when he got (to Findlay). They had a 6 a.m. mile run and three-hour practices.

"He was thrust into a house with 10 players. There wasn't any alone time. There was always somebody there."

Then again, by the time Nick went to Findlay as a high school junior, he already had seven years of elite-level basketball experience. And nearly eight, because he wanted to join a club of older elementary school students at Phoenix's Salvation Army club as at third grader.

"They said they were full," Moyland said. "They had a pretty elite game but (the next year) one guy said, 'Let him practice,' and that's when they kept him."

Johnson played for the Salvation Army until middle school, when he joined Pennell's Arizona Premier travel-ball club.

At the same time, Johnson was also excelling at football but was steered away from it as high school approached.

"He was kind of forced to choose," Moyland said. "He was ranked so high as a basketball player so young. Before he went to high school he was going to Top 100 camps. A lot of people pushed him to go basketball."

Especially considering Johnson's lineage, it was an obvious path to take. Not only had Joey Johnson made a living in professional basketball for a decade before becoming a supervisor for the California Department of Transportation, but there was also his brother, Dennis Johnson, a five-time NBA all-star who played 13 seasons in the league with Seattle, Phoenix and Boston.

Nick said he mostly knew his uncle from family visits, not as a basketball player, before Dennis died in 2007. Since then, however, Nick said he has heard of his game and seen videos of their resemblances.

"Before I got really into basketball, he passed away," Nick Johnson said. "The first time I sat down and watched Lakers-Celtics in the finals, a bunch of old game footage, it was crazy.

"A lot of people have said, 'You look so much like your uncle and run like him,' stuff like that. It was pretty neat."

With Moyland, there may have been some influence in athleticism and height in Nick; at 5-foot-11, she ran track and played volleyball in high school while growing up in Idaho, where she met Joey Johnson.

"I always tell him I had something to do with the height," Moyland said, laughing. "He says, 'Yeah, but I'm still short.'"

But there is one trait that Nick Johnson firmly attributes to her, the same trait that got him through all those years of elite youth ball and Findlay Prep.

"My competitiveness, definitely," Nick Johnson said. "I always just battle. That's definitely her. Everyone who knows her tells me that."

Moyland has been to nearly every UA game so far this season, even making the trek to Pullman, Wash., from Spokane while her son took a charter flights with the team. She provides encouragement and, if needed, won't hesitate to jab a needle in his side.

"She'll tell me what I did," Nick said. "She's been around the game for 20 years now, having watched my dad. She'll tell me if I had a terrible game or anything like that. She's definitely my biggest critic but also my biggest fan."

From Moyland's base in Phoenix, and Joey Johnson's base in Los Angeles, they wound up raising a player UA coach Sean Miller has consistently praised for the kind of maturity, work ethic and steadiness not always seen in freshmen.

"Nick has a very strong relationship with his family in general - his brother, his mom and his dad," Miller said. "Nick really looks up to his dad as any young kid would because he's been there and done it. But his family above and beyond his dad is something I know has been a source of strength."

Of course, there's also that other thing they gave him: At 6-foot-2, Nick Johnson has a 39-inch vertical leap. The best among all the Wildcats.

Discuss the UA-ASU game with other fans while you watch it. Chat opens at 1 p.m. Sunday at live.azstarnet.com

Today

• What: Arizona at Arizona St.

• When: 1:30 p.m.

• TV; radio: FSAZ; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

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Pac-12 basketball standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Arizona 0 0 0 0.000 12 1 0 0.923
Washington 0 0 0 0.000 11 0 0 1.000
California 0 0 0 0.000 10 2 0 0.833
Oregon 0 0 0 0.000 9 3 0 0.750
Utah 0 0 0 0.000 9 2 0 0.818
UCLA 0 0 0 0.000 8 4 0 0.667
Arizona State 0 0 0 0.000 8 5 0 0.615
Colorado 0 0 0 0.000 7 4 0 0.636
USC 0 0 0 0.000 7 4 0 0.636
Stanford 0 0 0 0.000 7 3 0 0.700
Oregon State 0 0 0 0.000 7 3 0 0.700
Washington State 0 0 0 0.000 5 6 0 0.455

AP Top 25


Pac-12 basketball schedule

Teams Date Time
Harvard at
Arizona State
12/28 12:00 pm
Cal State-Bakersfield at
California
12/28 1:30 pm
Cal-Davis at
Washington State
12/28 4:00 pm
UCLA at
Alabama
12/28 4:30 pm
Stony Brook at
Washington
12/28 6:00 pm
Arkansas-Pine Bluff at
Stanford
12/29 9:00 pm
Cal-Irvine at
Oregon
12/29 9:00 pm
UC-Santa Barbara at
Oregon State
12/30 7:30 pm
Carroll (Mont.) at
Utah
12/30 7:30 pm
Vermont at
USC
12/30 9:30 pm
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