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Bay's Johnston a rock for Blue Dukes

Senior guard's grit, leadership took team to unexpected finish

March 29, 2010

NOW All-Suburban basketball guard John Johnston and his teammates knew what they were up against going into this season.

No North Shore Conference Player of the Year and former guard running mate Jimmy Sherburne, no all-everything center Kevin James, and no coach Dave Shaw, who led them to the North Shore Conference title last season (he's at Pulaski now).

Which naturally meant no chance for Bay at doing anything good at all this winter.

Except if you were the highly motivated Johnston.

"In the open gyms this fall, we understood what we could do and what we couldn't," he said. "All those doubts that were pointed towards us started to disappear.

"And we definitely followed what coach (new coach Kevin Lazovik) told us. He preached teamwork. Injuries could have slowed us down, but we carried over what we did in practice into games. We followed his (Lazovik's) lead and it wound up clicking."

Because what happened was a lot of good for the Blue Dukes, who finished with a 19-8 record in large part because of Johnston's grit and skill.

The grit began with the leadership in the fall gyms and followed through a tough mid-section of the season where the Blue Dukes lost four of six games to fall out of contention in the North Shore.

Compounding the problem was the fact that Johnston badly sprained his right ankle at the start of that stretch. He missed only one game (though it never felt quite right the rest of the season), and shortly thereafter, the Blue Dukes began an eight-in-nine games winning streak that only ended in a WIAA Division 2 sectional final loss to eventual state champion Catholic Memorial.

Johnston's grit continued right through the tournament.

In the sectional semifinal win over Ripon the night before the Memorial game, he aggravated the bad right ankle. Then in the loss to Memorial, he injured the good ankle early in the third quarter. He tried to make a go of it, but eventually had to take a seat on the bench, becoming, in Lazovik's words, "one of the best cheerleaders we had."

The scoreless evening was not how Johnston wanted to end his career, but it exemplified the way he carried himself throughout it.

"Even going into the Ripon game, it was still sore and hard to jump off of," Johnston said of his legs. "I definitely surprised myself that while nursing an injury like that I was still able to contribute. The team was very patient with me."

Because it couldn't do without him.

Johnston averaged 16.3 points and 4.7 rebounds a game. He also averaged 3.2 assists, two steals and 1.4 blocks a game while working with a largely new guard line including new-to-the-job seniors Jevontae Merriwether and Alex Jamerson.

He has two favorite memories this winter, both of them in that final push. The harrowing WIAA regional final overtime win over North Shore co-champ Port Washington was one.

"It was a win or go home situation," he said, "and we wanted to prove everyone right about how good we really were."

And the double overtime win over Milwaukee Lutheran earlier in the streak where he scored 30 points on that bad ankle was the other.

"It was senior night, and we pulled off a miraculous comeback in the fourth quarter. It was the most fun and exciting game ever. I'll remember it the rest of my life."

Lazovik will recall Johnston in similar terms.

"John has just been a pleasure to coach," said Lazovik. "He is the kind of young man who goes 100 percent on every single play in practice and in games. He is the first one to dive for a loose ball in practice or in games.

"… He's selfless and more than willing to pick up balls or trash after practice, too. John is truly the leader of our team."

NOW HONOREES

John Johnston becomes 10th Blue Duke to earn NOW All-Suburban designation

OTHER BAY ALL-SUBURBAN SELECTIONS:

2009 - Jimmy Sherburne and Dave Shaw (Coach of the Year)

2006 - Sherrod Smith, forward

1999 - Jeff Frank, guard

1998 - Marius and Mario Boyd (both guards)

1997 - Marius Boyd, guard

1996 - Jeff Thielke, Coach of the Year

1990 - Ernie Peavy, guard

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