Will Johnson insists his pricey, metallic, gold shoes have nothing to do with his recent hot shooting.
“Nah. I ordered them online. I didn’t think they’d be that shiny,” he said with a laugh. “I thought they’d go with the uniform.”
Coincidence or not, the Catholic Central High School senior is unstoppable since stepping into his custom-designed, $188 high-tops — his “41” jersey number stitched into their sides.
A 6-foot-2 former point guard who moved to the No. 2 spot this season, Johnson is averaging 20 points, nine rebounds and three assists for the Irish (5-2 overall, 3-1 in the Ohio Heritage Conference).
“He’s definitely one of the best kids that not a lot of people know about. He goes about his business that way,” said Central coach Dan Shay, whose Irish are tied with Mechanicsburg atop the OHC and seeking their first league championship in his eight seasons.
“Last year Will was more of a point guard — getting everyone involved and taking over when needed. This year, as a No. 2 or 3 guard, he’s more of a slasher but will shoot the open shot. He’s worked a lot in the off-season on squaring his shoulders, squaring his feet.”
Johnson’s take-notice numbers have come despite a late start. The center-midfielder played soccer through early November, helping Central to a Division-III regional final appearance.
“I missed the opening two weeks, but I shot as much as I could until the first game,” he said.
In back-to-back wins over Miami Trace and Northwestern, Johnson erupted for a combined 65 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, helping the Irish overcome the two-game absence of fellow starters Casey Burns and Tate Robertson.
The third-year starter netted 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against visiting Northwestern, then followed 24 hours later with a career-high 36 points, 11 boards and five assists in an overtime victory at Miami Trace.
“He had a heck of a weekend there,” Shay said. “People knew about Will about halfway through the season last year and were keying on him. Now we’re finding scoring in other areas and that opens it up for him.”
On Friday, Johnson’s 15 points proved key in handing Mechanicsburg its first OHC loss, 46-44.
Trailing from the outset until two seconds remained, Central stole the league-tying win on a four-foot floater from junior guard Tate Robertson as time expired.
“My hair got a little grayer,” Shay joked.
Working off a set play and a pair of screens, Johnson attracted heavy attention on the left side of the lane, creating Robertson’s open shot on the right.
“That was just a huge win,” Johnson said. “We thought they’d be the best team in the conference, by far. They came to our house and we played the big game.
“Winning the OHC was a goal for us to achieve and now we know we can actually do it. Knowing we can beat the best team — it’s a huge win for us.”
Just 3-18 a year ago, the Irish have recovered behind six seniors, three of whom are returning starters: Johnson, Ryan Fain, and Casey Burns.
“The OHC is so much up in the air,” Shay said. “We can’t take a night off. We’ve got to play. We can’t take anybody lightly. We have to prepare and challenge ourselves every single night.”
“We know now that we can win,” Johnson added, “and it’s great to have that confidence.”