Mt. Pleasant senior Johnson proves to be more than scorer

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Thursday, January 9, 2020 | 6:20 PM


As Derry attempted to inbound, Jake Johnson patrolled the baseline slyly with his arms up and his eyes locked in.

The basketball belonged to him.

In that moment, he was the only player on the floor.

The Mt. Pleasant senior guard snatched the ball out of the air, put it on the floor and dribbled downcourt, taking on four defenders before finishing with a coast-to-coast layup.

“I always knew I could score and get to the rim,” Johnson said. “But I always want to do more.”

The 6-foot-3 Johnson is rounding into a more complete player as he plays his final season at Mt. Pleasant, his fourth as a starter.

Always the kid who played up a grade, Johnson was scoring on eighth-graders when he was in seventh grade and freshmen when he was in eighth grade.

“He’s a basketball player,” Mt. Pleasant coach Allan Bilinsky said. “But he is so much more than a scorer. He could play all five positions for us. We want the ball in his hands because of what he can do and the matchup problems be creates. I mean, who do you put on him?”

Johnson, who is averaging 19 points and on pace to become the seventh boys player to score 1,000 career points at Mt. Pleasant, can be a handful for opponents. He has been since he brought his game to the varsity level.

One of the top scorers in Westmoreland County for the last few years, Johnson has 896 career points heading into the Vikings’ clash with Class 4A No. 1 Highlands on Friday night in Natrona Heights.

But look at what else he can do.

Also in the Derry game, he blocked a shot that led to a basket, pulled down numerous rebounds against taller players and led the fast break, even playing the point when the score was getting close in the fourth quarter.

He’s not Magic Johnson, but Mt. Pleasant thinks he’s close sometimes when he gets in the open floor.

“I didn’t make a 3-pointer tonight, and that’s the first game this season that has happened,” Johnson said sheepishly, as if he did something wrong. Mt. Pleasant won 51-49 as Johnson came up with a last-second steal caused by sophomore teammate Luke Brandner.

“J.J. is learning to get to the rim and initiate more contact,” Bilinsky said. “He’s been working on that and keeps getting better at it.”

Johnson scored 40 points in a 71-61 loss to Laurel Highlands and uber-talented freshman guard Rodney Gallagher, who poured in 38.

“We were down 16 and cut it to four,” Johnson said. “We could have won that game. (Gallagher) is incredibly good.”

Johnson had 23 in the Derry game and 19 in a win over Waynesburg.

While getting to the rim is his forte, Johnson can hit jumpers on occasion.

“I am trying to become a better outside shooter,” he said.

Mt. Pleasant has other quality victories against Monessen and Greensburg Salem, and Johnson, an avid Dwyane Wade fan, had a hand in those, too.

While he looks to score most of the time, which is what the team needs him to do, Johnson also tries to get his teammates involved. He admittedly is a lead-by-example player.

“We can be a good team if we focus and don’t bicker,” Johnson said. “We have to keep our heads and play smart.”

Johnson comes from a basketball family. His dad, Bill, and brothers, Matt and William Tyler Johnson, played, the latter moving into coaching. He led the Derry girls for one season and currently coaches the Westmoreland County Community College men’s team.

“Basketball helps me with life,” Jake Johnson said. “Time management and things like that. It helps me get along with my friends and teammates.”

A talented wide receiver-turned-running back (and cornerback) in football, Johnson is leaning towards basketball in college.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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