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Johnson leaps into a new realm of reality

By Eddy Landreth
Staff Writer

There are 169 people in the town of Cordova, S.C., according to the 2010 census. The town sits about an hour south of Columbia, just off U.S. Interstate 26.

Eddy Landreth

One of those 169 people is Brice Johnson, a young man who stands 6-feet-9-inches tall and has a measured wingspan of 7 feet. He can leap over a horizontal pole resting 6-feet-10-inches off the ground. That feat resulted in a South Carolina state championship in the high jump at the class 2-A level.

“He went at 7 feet,” said Herman Johnson, Brice’s father and high-school basketball coach. “He cleared it but brushed the bar, and it came off. I think he can get 7 feet if he just works on his technique a little bit. Basketball, you see all kind of moves. He’s exciting to watch.”

Carolina fans will soon know Brice Johnson well because he has signed to play for coach Roy Williams and the Tar Heels.

Mr. Johnson said his son has always been an attentive pupil, a trait that helped him improve as he grew.

“He’s a real good athlete,” he said. “He picks up on things quickly. He pays attention to what you tell him. Then he tries to put it into his repertoire and go from there.”

Early on, however, the elder Johnson saw a dilemma. His son was going to be taller than the other kids, so in order to develop as an interior player Brice needed to compete against similar-sized kids.

“We always had him play against older kids so he had somebody he really had to compete against,” he said. “He’s very competitive. And that kind of helped him a whole lot, playing against older guys.”

When the summer club teams and the traveling circuit came along, Brice finally got to man-up against others of his height.

“It was a challenge at first because I wasn’t used to playing anyone my size,” Brice Johnson said. “Eventually I got used to it and got better and better at it.”

He became so good and showed so much potential that Williams offered him one of the most coveted scholarships in the country – a ticket to Carolina.
Johnson signed to play for the Tar Heels in November 2011. He will be a member of the 2012-13 team.

“Brice plays for his dad at a small school in South Carolina, and he has tremendous upside as a player,” Williams said. “He’s just now starting to realize what he can do on the basketball court. He blocks shots, is effective around the basket and is going to be a big-time athlete for us.”

Brice is not just a raw athlete, however. He is a basketball player, one who has worked on his game throughout his life.

“He’s always been a decent shooter,” Herman Johnson said. “He always had a good court awareness. From the sixth grade on, every year his ability developed.

“Each year, he would go out and work on something. He would get good at that, and then he would go work on something else. So his progression has just kept going and going and going.”

Herman Johnson provided an analysis of where Brice is at this moment.

“One thing he had to work on was his footwork,” he said. “We worked on that this past season. That has gotten a whole lot better. Playing defense on a smaller person has gotten better.

“He runs the floor well. He plays pretty good defense. He likes blocking shots. He plays good help defense. His on-the-ball defense is pretty good, unless he has to switch off to a little guard. Little guards are quicker. But it’s something we’ve been working on. He’s gotten a whole better at that than he used to be.”

Of course, as is often the case with tall thin players, Brice will need to lift a lot of weights so that he can withstand the punishing battle for position that goes on beneath the basket at the elite collegiate level.

“When he gets to college, he’s going to have to put on a few muscle pounds,” Herman Johnson said. “He’s pretty strong for a high school person, but a collegiate person has a routine in the weight room. In high school, you can’t really get a set routine with a personal trainer.

“His weight is 205, but he is running track right now,” Mr. Johnson said. “His weight is going up and down.”

Nonetheless, Brice Johnson said that he has certain skills he knows will enable him to contribute right away.

“I can rebound and block shots,” he said. “I can face up and shoot a little bit.”

Another thing Brice Johnson has is a beautiful smile. He doesn’t say much, but his smile is radiant. And right now he is smiling a lot because he will be moving to Chapel Hill for the second session of summer school soon after he graduates from Edisto High School.

“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I chose Carolina because of the tradition of the school; it’s close to home, and the atmosphere for basketball is great.”

He understands the style of basketball that the Tar Heels play and said he is anxious to be one of those big men racing down the court.
“I envisioned running the floor in that uniform since I was little,” Johnson said. “But I never thought I would get there.

“It’s going to be real fun.”

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