Johnson provides calming presence for Pats

Photo by Jimmy Lafakis/The Herald
Heritage Hills senior guard Jake Johnson looks up during his team's game against Evansville Memorial Dec. 5 in Lincoln City.


LINCOLN CITY — In the “NBA 2K” video game series, users can create virtual basketball players in the popular “MyCareer” game mode. The mode allows millions of players to realize their hoop dreams in a fictitious version of the NBA.

If Heritage Hills point guard Jake Johnson customized his own player, he would likely assemble a “Two-Way Slashing Playmaker” — a well-rounded guard equipped with tenacious defense, creative finishing packages and a knack for distributing the basketball. He is an avid 2K player, so it is reasonable to suggest that his guard would be a difference-maker in the video game.

In the real world, Johnson has guided the Patriots to a 2-0 record. The season has just begun, but the victories have helped Johnson and the Pats establish positive chemistry.

Johnson is encouraged by the strong start, but he is not surprised. Over the years, his tight bonds with his teammates have carried over to the hardwood.

“Since I’ve played with them for so long, I can typically tell what they’re going to do before they do it,” Johnson said. “It makes it easy. I can tell when they’re going to cut, so I just give them a bounce pass and lead them right to a layup. I know that if somebody gets past me on defense, they’ll be able to slide over and help. I can slide over to their guy and defend him.”

Playing stout defense is no small feat. It requires effort and commitment, and Heritage Hills head coach Nate Hawkins emphasizes the importance of playing hard on the defensive end of the floor.

When Hawkins evaluated the Pats’ wins over North Harrison and Evansville Memorial, he offered a candid assessment of Johnson’s contributions.

“He’s really gotten off to a great start here in his senior campaign,” he said. “I don’t expect him to look back. Is he going to be perfect every night? No. We don’t expect anybody in this basketball program to be perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. Just because of the way we play, we’re going to make some mistakes. I can tell you one thing — he may make mistakes, but he will not make mistakes on the defensive end. He’s willing to take that challenge.”

As Johnson discussed his love for the sport, he echoed Hawkins’ sentiments.

“I like playing defense,” he said. “It’s one of the most essential things you have to do in basketball. If I’m going to be playing it for a lot of the game, I might as well take pride in it. It’s no fun letting your guy score a lot on you.”

When the left-handed Johnson engineers the Pats’ offense, he resembles a scintillating southpaw — Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat. The crafty Dragic is known for his ability to create open looks for himself and his teammates.

A passionate Heat fan, Johnson has studied Dragic’s tendencies.

“He knows how to get that team to mesh together,” he said. “He’s always looking for the open guy. He plays stellar defense. He’s a playmaker. That’s what I look to be.”

Johnson watched the Heat square off against the Los Angeles Lakers in this year’s NBA Finals. Although his favorite team came up short, Johnson was inspired by the series.

“They put up a pretty good fight,” he said. “If I can put up as much fight as Jimmy Butler did in the one game where he played for almost the entire game, I would love to do that for this team.”

Before the Pats defeated Memorial on Dec. 5, Johnson battled through a foot injury sustained in practice. His willingness to persevere through adversity has endeared him to his teammates.

“They just trust Jake,” Hawkins said. “They trust him with everything that they’ve got. They know that he’s going to lead us to victory most of the time.”

The players are not the only Pats who believe in Johnson. The Heritage Hills coaching staff places its faith in his palms.

“We’ve given him the keys,” Hawkins said. “We want him to drive the bus and see how far he can take us. We think that he’s got the ability, along with all the other guys on this team, to really finish out a great career here.”

When he suits up in his Heritage Hills uniform, Johnson is at peace. He understands his responsibilities and attacks his goals with fervor.

“I love being able to represent this team and this school in a good way,” Johnson said. “It’s not a normal year, by any means. We’re going to try and make the most of what we have.”

In Johnson’s eyes, basketball is more than a game.

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