This year was more of the same for Johnson as he led Whitefield to its third Class A state crown.
That achievement earned Johnson the Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Boys Basketball Coach of the Year honor for the second year in a row.
He has also been honored by the Georgia Sports Writers Association, which named him its Class A boys basketball coach of the year.
“It is definitely an honor and a humbling experience to receive these awards,” Johnson said. “But, as any coach will tell you, it’s all due to your players. I’ve been blessed with kids who work extremely hard and who have a strong commitment to success.”
Johnson led Whitefield to a 29-3 record as the Wolfpack dominated Region 9A with a perfect 12-0 mark and then marched through the Class A state tournament in equally dominant fashion, culminating in a 73-49 win over Athens Christian in the finals.
Whitefield came storming out of the gate this season, winning each of its first five games by double-figure margins — including wins over Class AAAAA’s Peachtree Ridge and Tift County.
But the Wolfpack hit a speed bump in late December, struggling to a 2-3 record during holiday tournaments in Alabama and South Carolina. That stretch also included a three-point loss to county rival McEachern.
“We just didn’t play the kind of basketball we are capable of playing,” Johnson said. “We weren’t playing as a team. We were taking shots that we shouldn’t have been taking. We lacked leadership during those Christmas tournaments in Alabama and South Carolina, and I think our team got exposed.”
But Johnson said his team was able to get back on track after its disappointing showing in the holiday tournaments.
“It was a wake-up call,” Johnson said. “We knew we had to get back to our core values as a program and as a team. We went back to the fundamentals, and worked hard on drills, and got back to the things that make a championship club.”
The rest of the way was smooth sailing for Whitefield, which didn’t lose another game the rest of the season.
After going through its region schedule undefeated, Whitefield went on to win every state tournament game by double figures — beating Hebron Christian 65-13, St. Francis 72-30, Aquinas 76-64 and Lanier County 75-62 before crushing Athens Academy in the finals to clinch its third state title.
For Johnson, the key to the Wolfpack’s success was the leadership they got from their three seniors.
“The leadership we got from our three seniors was priceless,” he said. “Jordan Coar, Kenny Gaines and Gerald Render were three guys who stepped up as leaders and made this a special team.”
While Whitefield will lose the trio of Gaines, Coar and Render, Johnson will have plenty of talent on hand to make a serious run at another state title next year.
“With guys like Eric Lockett and Lorenzo Carter, we will have a lot of potential,” Johnson said. “We will have the potential to do some things next year.”