Freshman Grant Johnson starting varsity basketball

Anna Kennedy, Instagram Manager

Just one year ago, Grant Johnson was playing eighth grade basketball at Magdalen. Now, the freshman is a familiar face in the starting lineup for the varsity boys basketball team at Kapaun Mt. Carmel.

Head coach John Cherne says this is the first time in five years that a freshman has started on varsity. Because of this, Johnson feels there is more pressure than there usually would be. “Since a freshman hasn’t started varsity in such a long time, everyone is expecting a lot and it can be hard to live up to sometimes,” Johnson said.

For Johnson, his placement on varsity came as a surprise.

“I was expecting to be on the sophomore [or] JV team but the practice before our first game coach had me practice with varsity,” Johnson said, “I didn’t expect to be put in unless we were up by a lot or down by a lot but then coach put me in and now I’m starting.”

What drew Cherne’s attention to Johnson was his ball-handling skills.

“His ability to actually start the offense was good and his ball-handling skills helped.” Cherne said. “ He dribbles with his chin up and a lot of our guards at that time weren’t doing that.”

Some risks do come along with playing a freshman Cherne said.

“There are a few risks because there are some people who have been in the program for three to four years and he’s taking someone’s spot, an upperclassman,” Cherne said. “That is a risk and there is a risk that his lack of strength or a little bit of lack of size in the speed of the game may affect him.”

Senior Mark Hutton said the team wasn’t sure if he was mentally ready, a concern Johnson understands.

“I think there is a big risk because I’m a freshman and two or three years younger than most players,” Johnson said. “[I’m] not as big or as strong as most of them so I could be a liability on defense.” 

Running down the court, freshman Grant Johnson dribbles the ball past the Salina South High School defense Jan. 15. The game was a part of the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League/Greater Wichita Athletic League cross-conference matchups, hosted at Wichita State University. Due to severe winter weather,
the original game was rescheduled to be played at KMC. KMC won 63-44. photos by John Biehler

Aside from all the risks, Johnson also brings positive qualities including knowledge of the game and assisting his teammates.

“Qualities that Grant brings to the team is his basketball awareness on the court,” Hutton said. “[He is] able to get people open and knock down shots when needed.”

Although the team has been struggling in City League competition with a 7-3 record, Johnson has scored an average of 0.8 points , including a buzzer beater three-pointer.

“I have an average of 0.8 points per game so now I will be aiming for a 0.9,” Johnson jokingly said as he laughed.

With such a competitive league, there are difficulties for point guards.

“It is difficult to be a point guard in our league,” Cherne said. “It is difficult to score. Grant is needed to get our offense started especially when or offense was struggling early on. His role has changed a little bit as the season has progressed.”

This is also the first time Johnson has played in front of a large crowd.

“Never before have I had a whole school watching my basketball games,” Johnson said. “It can be intimidating at times.”

When it comes to his relationship with the team, Johnson would consider the team as a family saying, “I’m treated like the little brother. I have to put away all the boys’ bowls and refill drinks at Chick-fil-A but besides that, they treat me nice like family.”