COLUMBIA — Despite having years of experience coaching basketball both at the high school and junior college level, Hickman boys basketball coach David Johnson admitted he was anxious before his team kicked off the season Saturday against Poplar Bluff in the Norm Stewart Classic at Columbia College.
"I was probably just as nervous as they were for the first game, and I told them that," he said.
The Kewpies 53-39 win over Poplar Bluff marked the start of the second David Johnson era as the head of Hickman's basketball program. Johnson previously coached the team in the early 1990s before becoming the athletic director of St. Paul's College in Virginia.
During his second debut, Johnson shrugged off his nerves and looked like he never left Hickman. He paced the sideline like it was real estate he had owned for years. When he wanted his team to pick up its defensive intensity after a basket in the fourth quarter, he clapped his hands and shouted, "Defense." After the referee made a call he did not agree with he yelled, "Oh my God!"
Also making his debut for Hickman was freshmen guard Chris Clark. Not only did Clark make his first start, he played more minutes than any Kewpie in the game.
"It feels pretty good," Clark said. "Coach put me in there. He knows what I can do, and I showed him. I just went out there and played."
Clark notched eight points, three assists and one rebound in the win, and his performance pleased Johnson.
"I thought he did a great job of really helping us set the tempo offensively and defensively," Johnson said. "We're going to definitely have to work with him more on his defense, but being a freshmen, I couldn't ask for much better for a first game."
During the game, Johnson tried to improve Clark's defense by taking him aside between free throws after Clark got beat on a play. While doing so, Johnson did not yell but remained calm and patient with his point guard. When Johnson was done, he patted his young player on the rear in encouragement.
"He has a lot of potential as a player," senior guard Marcus Whitt said. "For a freshmen to go out and do what he did today, I think that's very good. He still has some growing to do, but I'm very confident in having him out there on my team."
Along with his skills, Clark also has some physical growing to do. His uniform looks too big and baggy on his lanky 6-foot-1 frame. In fact, a referee asked him to tuck in his shirt when it shook loose during the game.
Johnson said he does not think Clark's lack of size will be an issue.
"I was a little bit worried about him going up against older, stronger kids," Johnson said. "I don't have to worry anymore. I think he has shown he can handle it."