Commentary

ESPNChicago.com's Athlete of Week

Whitney Young's Anthony Johnson is stepping up in his new role of team leader

Updated: January 11, 2010, 9:51 PM ET
By Scott Powers | ESPNChicago.com

[+] EnlargeAnthony Johnson
Scott Powers Whitney Young senior Anthony Johnson is committed to play for Purdue next season.
Once Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter finished voicing his displeasure with his entire team at halftime of Sunday's game against Homewood-Flossmoor, he turned his attention to senior Anthony Johnson.

Johnson had struggled throughout the opening half, and Slaughter let him know about it. It wasn't that Johnson was missing shots; it was that Johnson was taking jumpers from NBA range and not playing hard enough on either end of the court.

"He threw down his clipboard," Johnson said. "He told me, 'Step up to the [3-point] line. I've been telling you that for two years.' I didn't take him yelling at me to heart. I took as it he depended on me, and I let him down. I needed to step up my game." So, he did.

With Whitney Young trailing 33-26 at halftime, Johnson, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, went on a rampage in the third quarter. He knocked down three 3-pointers and dropped in three other baskets for a total of 15 third-quarter points to push the Dolphins into the lead.

It would be Johnson's heroics that would save No. 1 Whitney Young from an upset in its season-opener. It also has made Johnson the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week.

"The thing that stood out for me more than anything else was his senior competitiveness in the third quarter," Slaughter said. "They got beat up pretty bad at halftime. Basically, I challenged them to play like seniors. The thing is he was far more aggressive on offense in the third quarter, aggressive in a very good way. He was shooting shots and shooting shots that were available to him. Defensively, he just decided to fly around. It was just his overall intensity on offense and defense."

Johnson's slow start to the game wasn't what he had envisioned to kick off his senior season. With the graduation of Chris Colvin and Marcus Jordan from last season's state championship squad, this season's reins were supposed to be in the hands of Johnson and fellow senior Ahmad Starks.

When Johnson and Starks finally took over the team in Sunday's season-opener, they looked unprepared for their new roles.

"For the last two years, I've been waiting my turn," Johnson said. "It was a little bit different. It was always if I wasn't scoring, somebody else would score. If I wasn't being aggressive, somebody else would be aggressive. It's now me and Ahmad's team."

This being his team, Johnson wants another state championship. Last season's title was nice and all, but it was done under other seniors' leadership and while Johnson was bothered by a twisted ankle.

"It sounds selfish, but in a selfish way I want to win a state title this year with me being a leader and Ahmad being a leader," Johnson said. "It would feel better."

Johnson's ankle kept him out of two games during Whitney Young's state championship run, and he played sparingly off the bench in the final two games. He would go on to miss the entire AAU season to enable the ankle to heal completely.

The ankle is 100 percent again. Luckily for Johnson, it also wasn't a big deal for him to miss AAU this spring and summer as he had already committed to Purdue during his junior year. Boilermakers coach Matt Painter was among those in the stands for Johnson's performance on Sunday.

At the next level, Slaughter believes Johnson provides Purdue with a versatile guard.

"He's still a very formidable shooter, but his other facets of his offense are sometimes overlooked," Slaughter said. "There are few players who are going to work as hard on their basketball game as Anthony. He's a gym rat. He's in the gym working on every facet.

"I think in the Big Ten he's a guy who will be able to distribute the basketball more and get out and handle the ball more than for our team. He's 6-3, almost 6-4, and that's not out of the realm to be a point guard in the college game. I think he's going to be more of a combo guard who is able to score the basketball."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at preps@espnchicago.com.

Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.

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