08/11/04 — Johnson -- New NJ boys coach

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Johnson -- New NJ boys coach

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 11, 2004 1:56 PM

KENLY -- A chance to come closer to home.

Absent from the coaching ranks for a couple of seasons, Derrick Johnson eagerly seized the opportunity to return to the basketball court when he learned of the recent opening at North Johnston. A native of Kinston and graduate of UNC Wilmington, Johnson just couldn't pass up the venture.

"I had twin girls come along and needed to get out for a couple of years," said Johnson, whose first varsity boys job was at Southwestern Randolph. "I was interested in getting back into coaching and looking for the best opportunity.

"When I came on the interview, I was really impressed with Mr. (Russ) Renfrow, Mr. (Ed) Holmes and Mr. (Brent) Walston. When we got to talking about the job, the teaching assignment fit. It felt good."

Walston agreed.

The second-year athletics director described Johnson as a "laid-back person" who was undoubtedly a good selection to succeed David Johnson, who resigned last spring. Johnson, whose last three teams averaged 10-plus wins a season, moved from the classroom to media coordinator and accepted more responsibility with the in-house change.

He and his wife are taking care of a new baby, which also prompted Johnson to relinquish his position so he could spend more time at home with his family.

The newly-appointed Johnson spent six seasons at Southwestern and rebuilt a program which had experienced very few winning seasons. The Cougars had not advanced to the playoffs since the early 1970s. His first team finished with six wins, but the next three posted double-digit victory totals and ended up among the top four in the Class 2-A Central Carolina Conference.

Southwestern collected 18 wins in Johnson's fourth season. His next two teams were 7-17 and 11-14, respectively, giving Johnson a 63-93 mark with three playoff appearances during his coaching stint.

Unlike his task at Southwestern, the newly-appointed coach has got a nucleus of players to work with in his first season with the Panthers.

"I talked with Coach (Paul) Jones about it because he helps with Ayden-Grifton," said Johnson, who played for Jones at Kinston High School. "I wasn't aware that Ayden-Grifton was in this conference. I talked with him, asked him what he thought and he said they had some talent.

"They've got some good returning players. I think it's a good opportunity."

Johnson met some of the players during open house last week, but hasn't organized a team meeting. He plans to schedule a time to talk with the players once he settles into the classroom environment.

North Johnston finished 10-15 a year ago and reached the semifinals of the Carolina 1-A Conference tournament. The Panthers wound up fifth in the league for the third straight season.

Johnson has viewed some game tapes from last season and echoed Jones' remark about the team having talent. But he also saw some things that need improving.

Ideally, he plans to put a fundamentally-sound and disciplined team on the court. Johnson wishes to play an up-tempo style and let the defense generate offense. But he knows the players' abilities will dictate the scheme that he employs this winter.

"You have to mold your players to the system," Johnson said. "Obviously, there are certain fundamental things you want all your teams to do. As far as offense and defense, it will depend on what I see when I get into practice.

"I want to see not only the physical talent, but the mental side ... how well they pick up things. I don't plan to get tied down into one set style or tempo until I get a good look at them."

Johnson will get his initial look at the Panthers on Nov. 1, the first official date of practice.

Note: North Johnston has added wrestling this season, but Walston continues his search for a coach. The Panthers join county rival Princeton, which also started wrestling this year; Spring Creek and Rosewood in the Carolina Conference.