A couple of weeks ago I forgot to acknowledge a very important member of a prep basketball family legacy in a column about a state championship team.
I had to go back to my first coaching experience 25 years ago to be able to explain how this former superstar connects to his family’s legacy.
In June 1992, I was a 26-year-old social studies teacher about to start my career in the St. Paul Public School district. I had also completed my fourth year working the prep beat as a sports writer for Insight News. I was also coaching for the first time as a volunteer for Night Moves, an inner city basketball program designed to give neighborhood youth a chance to shoot hoops and build relationships with community leaders.
As a community leader — as I was identified as during those days — I was asked to coach a boys team. I wanted nothing to do with coaching but as a “community leader” it felt like the right thing to do. We had the opportunity to draft the players for our team. It was always my belief that attitude could beat ability. It was that philosophy that I used to draft my team, known that season as the Blazers.
We started out pretty good, compiling a 3-2 record in the first five games. Then we ran into a team who had a player I passed over in the draft because of my desire to draft my players on attitude and not ability.
The 6’-5” 15 year old was the most dominant player in the league and he confirmed that in a variety of ways. He blocked shots, scored inside, scored outside and found the open teammate.
We even switched to zone defense to try to keep the ball out his hands, but to no avail.
We trailed 33-28 at halftime. We mounted a rally to close the gap to 40-41. A few minutes later, it happened.
With the score tied 46-all, we turned the ball over. The opposing team’s superstar slammed it big-time. We never recovered. The final score was 72-64.
After the game, all I could think about was how I passed up a pretty good player on draft day who had the ability and attitude. Little did I know that I would again pass on this player 25 years later. Well sort of.
Here’s the story. A couple of weeks ago, I featured Minneapolis North capturing their second straight Class 1A boys’ basketball championship and focused on a couple of basketball family legacies.
The column featured Western Illinois signee Isaac Johnson’s family basketball legacy — his father Kenneth Johnson (St. Paul Highland Park, 1990), uncle Sly Johnson (St. Paul Central, 1992), and cousin Sean Benton (Cretin Derham Hall, 1994), were all recognized.
An important person in the Johnson legacy tree was overlooked. The person? Isaac Johnson’s uncle, Jarrett Ballard.
More importantly, Ballard was the 6’-5” superstar that literally slammed the door on our team in that game after I passed on him in the Night Moves draft of ‘92. He went on to an outstanding career at St. Paul Central graduating in 1996.
Speaking of attitude, check out this Facebook exchange between Ballard and older brother Kenneth upon realizing he had been left out of the column:
“Sorry he didn’t say you, bro,” Kenneth Johnson wrote.
“No worries,” responded Ballard. “We know what I was doing on the court, bro.”
I even chimed in.
“My bad big-time, Jarrett,” I wrote apologizing for my blunder.
“No problem Mitchell. Much respect and love to you,” he replied
Great attitude! I should have drafted him!