COLUMBIA — It took him two go-arounds as coach, and he had to fight for his third victory of the season against his team's rival, but Hickman High School boys basketball coach David Johnson finally had it.
After two years with the Kewpies in the 1990s, Johnson left for a college athletic director's job. He returned to his old post with Hickman in 2010.
Saturday, as the clock ran down in the host Kewpies' 66-62 win over Rock Bridge and a full-court pass ended up in the hands of junior guard Douglas Johnson — David Johnson's son — he finally had his first district championship as head coach at Hickman in hand.
And when the buzzer blared and the sellout crowd roared, he was done with it. Stone-faced, he took his place at the end of the postgame handshake line and stayed his distance as the trophy was being presented to the Kewpies.
"You envision, certainly, to play as long as you can, and if that means getting the district championship, we knew that was our first step," Johnson said.
That's just how he saw his team's win: another step. Not a culmination of his journey from Columbia to St. Paul's College in Virginia and back to Columbia, but just another win.
"Right now, all I can think about is I feel good about winning the district championship, but I feel like we got a lot more work to go," Johnson said.
The team was raucously celebrating all the way out to the locker room, but Johnson was already talking about Washington — the opponent Hickman will face in sectional play — while speaking with reporters after the game.
That sentiment could also be seen in Johnson's players. Senior forward Cecil Williams, who won his first district title in his final high school season, talked about how "the journey's not over" for the team and the importance of moving on from the victory.
A significant reason Johnson returned to Columbia and Hickman was to be with his family. And family played a huge role in him getting the championship — Douglas Johnson scored 19 points, the second-highest total on the team behind sophomore guard Jimmy Whitt's 22.
Although the coach didn't show it, Douglas Johnson had an idea of how his father felt.
"I know he's happy," he said. "I know he's, like, he's jumping inside."
The Kewpies face Washington on March 6 in Camdenton.