COLUMBIA – Wearing an untucked purple T-shirt and holding a basketball in his left hand, Hickman basketball coach David Johnson stands on the baseline underneath the basket and instructs his players to box out.
His team, who received its first loss of the season against Park Hill South 55-47 on Tuesday, is dressed to match their coach, wearing purple, white or gold. They wait lined up along the lane in front of the hoop ready for the coming free throw.
The Hickman boys basketball team lost 70-65 to Lincoln Prep on Thursday night in the second round of the Blue Springs tournament.
Marcus Whitt led the Kewpies with 22 points and Da'Quan Dixon scored 20, but it wasn't enough to defeat Lincoln Prep.
The Kewpies lost their first round matchup Tuesday falling 55-47 to Park Hill South, so they will be playing for seventh place at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Blue Springs High School.
Although this is Johnson’s first year with this team, it is not the only time he has taught a team how to rebound a shot and rebound from a defeat.
Fifteen years ago during his original tenure as Hickman’s head basketball coach, Johnson gave those lessons on the same old court before leaving to become the athletic director at St. Paul’s College in Virginia.
Despite the fact the scenery and his curriculum remain unchanged, Johnson feels things this time around are different.
“I think I’m a little bit wiser,” he said. “I feel like I know the mass majority of kids who play basketball in this community, and I think that I can certainly relate to them as far as my coaching style. It’s just something I’ve prepared for 15 years right down to have that opportunity if it ever rose again.”
Johnson seems to radiate wisdom in two distinctive ways. As a person, he speaks in a soft, even tone while sporting a shaved head reminiscent of a Buddhist monk.
As a coach, the robes come off and the warrior emerges.
“If he sees something wrong, he’ll tell you,” senior guard Marcus Whitt said. “He doesn’t treat you like a kid. He treats you like a man. He’s a real aggressive coach in the good way.”
Both styles command a level of authority that is well deserved.
Basketball wise, Johnson grew up in Columbia and actually played for the Kewpies in high school.
After graduation, he played junior college ball in Fergus Falls, Minn., where he said he became the first All-American from the state. Division I schools from the Big Sky Conference attempted to recruit Johnson, but he instead transferred to the Div. II Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Following Augustana, Johnson almost tried out for the Milwaukee Bucks, but decided to take his talents to the “Land Down Under” and played professionally in and around Melbourne, Australia for the Sunbury Jets and Bendigo Braves.
“I played there for five wonderful, glorious years,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I met some wonderful people, wonderful friends, people I consider family, who really took me in and allowed me to grow as a person.”
While playing in Australia, Johnson was in contact with NBA teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls, to see if he could arrange tryouts, though nothing came of his correspondence with them.
“It was a dream that was almost fulfilled,” he said. “I still have those letters to this day as far as them writing back to me and saying the reasons why because of their teams and stuff and why I didn’t get the opportunity to do it. And I was OK with that.”
For Johnson, basketball was more than his first love. He said it actually saved his life, not literally or financially, but in the sense it kept him academically motivated and inspired to push himself in whatever he did.
It also led him to his other passion — coaching. After Australia, he got involved in youth organizations and even started his own business called Midwest Sports Challenge. The organization runs basketball leagues, sports, clinics and tournaments for children all the way up to high school.
“I always wanted to get into coaching and teaching,” he said. “It was my love and my passion. It was always something I wanted to do when I came back to Columbia. I wanted to provide.”
Now back at Hickman, Johnson said he is extremely grateful for the opportunity, and wants to teach his players to pursue their aspirations, whatever they may be.
“I’m very gracious and I want to make the most of this opportunity not just for myself, but for others who are involved, and particularly the kids that we have,” he said. “I just see myself as a person that is certainly a stepping stone for them to say, ‘hey, if he can do it, I can do it.’”