Johnson has made big leaps with PatsFebruary 12, 2020
By JONATHAN SAXON
LINCOLN CITY — Jake Johnson comes off as soft spoken, but beneath the surface of the Heritage Hills junior guard lies the spirit of a fierce competitor. It first came into play when he worked his way back into fighting shape after breaking his left tibia and fibula freshman year. Then in his sophomore year, Johnson adopted an iron sharpens iron mindset and spent a good chunk of his junior varsity season competing against the likes of then-junior guards Murray Becher and Simon Scherry to get himself better for the next level.
“I made sure I could go against Simon, Murray and all the varsity players as much as I could last year,” said Johnson. “I knew it was going to be a change in pace and speed, so I tried to get acclimated to that. I like going against good athletes (and) pushing myself. If I get beat, I get beat. (But) I’ll keep trying the next play.”
That drive carried over to the summer workouts as well. Johnson began finding himself in with the first unit during summer scrimmages, and, while he knew he still had to earn his way when winter practices started, the hot months boosted his confidence and made him feel like that fifth starting role was his to lose.
“I knew I was still going to have to prove my worth when the season came (around),” he said. “But it was clear in the summer, (and) I made sure to solidify it in the beginning practices. By the time we played our first game against (Evansville) Central, it was transparent I was the starter.”
With guys like Becher, Scherry and junior forward Blake Sisley, Johnson knows his role doesn’t call for being ball-dominant or looking for his shot every time he gets a touch. So instead he focuses on rebounding, moving the ball and playing solid defense to maximize his contributions on the floor. However, he will take a shot if he gets a good look in the flow of the offense and boasts a 37 percent shooting mark from 3-point land on the season.
“I guard my man (and) make sure he doesn’t score,” he said. “I get rebounds. I facilitate. If I’m open I’ll shoot, but I like to pass and rebound.”
“He’s willing to take a step back for other guys that he knows (need the ball),” added Patriots coach Nate Hawkins, who also called him a leader and winner. “But when the opportunities are there, he really steps up and always comes through. He just makes winning plays, and he impacts the game in a winning way.”
Hawkins noted he hasn’t seen many cases where a kid goes from no varsity experience to a solid starter in one year, though players often make big jumps between their sophomore and junior seasons. But Johnson’s willingness to test himself against the Patriots’ best players made all the difference in his development and allowed for an almost seamless transition into the starting lineup.
“Jake continued to work and not get too down on himself,” said Hawkins. “And because of that, we saw the evolution and the growth of Jake Johnson. Having to compete against those guys is going to make him better going forward. That just goes to show, regardless of where you’re at, what hard work can do for you.”
Johnson has found a nice fit on the floor for the Patriots, but is still looking to improve himself so he can continue contributing to the team’s winning ways. For him, that primarily means improving on his shooting consistency, which he’ll have five more games to work on before the postseason. He looks forward to tackling that next step head on, just like he did with embracing the challenge of playing up to the varsity level as a JV player.
“I’m looking forward to the rest of the season,” said Johnson. “We’re going to be making sure we play hard each game, make sure we value it (and) get some good experience going into sectionals.”
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