TribLive HSSN Boys Basketball Player of the Year: Moon’s Donovan Johnson
By: Chris Harlan
Sunday, April 7, 2019 | 8:54 PM
Donovan Johnson’s storybook season had a major plot twist near the end.
Moon held a double-digit second-half lead in the WPIAL championship and seemed destined to wear gold medals around their necks at Petersen Events Center. But that changed when Mars rallied back that night, dashed the Tigers’ dreams and sent Johnson and his teammates home in tears.
That disappointment could’ve been what Johnson remembered most about his junior season. Now, it’s barely a memory. Instead, Moon regrouped before the state playoffs, avenged that loss to Mars and won the PIAA Class 5A championship in Hershey, 74-64, over Archbishop Wood of the Philadelphia Catholic League.
Moon finished 28-2 behind Johnson, who was a dominant force all season. The 6-foot-9 guard/forward averaged 22.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game — making him the TribLive HSSN Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Johnson was a matchup problem inside (making 70 percent of his 2-point attempts), a 77-percent free throw shooter and also made 47 percent of his 3-point tries.
He comes from a basketball family. His father, Gil, played basketball for Pitt in the 1980s, and his brother Cameron was a senior starter at North Carolina this season. Johnson played his first two high school seasons at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart before transferring home to Moon last summer.
What moment will you always remember from the state finals?
“The moment I’ll remember is when the clock ticked to zero and everyone ran onto the court and was celebrating. We all looked at each other and said: ‘We did it. We accomplished what we wanted.’ Every single day in practice, that’s what we were playing for. There were a lot of emotions at that moment that we actually did it. We won the state championship, and we were the best team in the state.”
Looking back, did the WPIAL championship loss make your team better in a way?
“Yes, that loss made us a better team. It brought us more together. We realized that we can’t do this alone. We can only do it as a team. We knew after that after that loss. And we knew that if we kept on practicing each and every day, that we’re going to get our shot again at Mars. After that we’d get our shot at the state championship.”
How did you change as a player since your sophomore season?
“The big thing I improved on most since I came to Moon was my defense. Coach (Adam) Kaufman preaches defense a lot — he preaches stop by stop — and he really taught me the fundamentals of defense. He tried to get it in my head that to play at the next level, you need to play defense. And if you want to play as soon as you get into college, you need to learn how to play defense now.”
What’s the difference between WPIAL Class 5A and Class 2A?
“In my mind, each day you have to go in and give it your hardest because, honestly, there are no plays off. (Class) 5A is a lot deeper, there are a lot better teams, better coached. In 2A, I wouldn’t say you take days off, but the talent just wasn’t there like 5A.”
What’s your go-to spot to shoot?
“If I had to make a shot, my spot is a left-wing 3. I feel like that’s 100 percent. Automatic. Pretty much the whole Mars game (in the PIAA semifinals), all of my 3s were from the left wing. I think I went 5 for 6. The one I missed was on the right.”
Is there a professional player you like to watch and learn from?
“I look up to a lot of them and try to take bits and pieces from everyone’s game. Maybe someone with length like Kevin Durant. I try to incorporate his moves. But honestly, I take from all the players. I like to watch NBA basketball.”
Who’s your favorite NBA player?
“My favorite is easily Russell Westbrook. He can do it all: 20 points, 20 rebounds and 21 assists the other night. That’s fun to watch. I grew up being a big (Oklahoma City) Thunder fan. Kevin Durant left and made me really salty, but then Paul George came and I was less salty. They’ve got to get back to that championship.”
If your basketball team has a talent show, who wins?
“I’d probably have to say Tre Carter, he’s the funniest by far on our team. He was our hype man and our sixth man off the bench, but he was always funny in the locker room. He always made us laugh.”
What would be your talent?
“My talent would probably be acting or something like that. Not a lot of people know that I can act.”
You’re often compared with your older brother Cameron. Are you two similar or different?
“We’re similar in our shooting ability and wanting to win each and every game. Even when we play each other one on one, we can’t stand to lose. Or when we play each other in a shooting competition, we can’t stand to lose. He’s actually home right now, and we played one on one the other day. There’s not much different. I’m more willing to post where he’s more of a guard. I’m more of a guard but can play forward when I need to.”
Where did you two play one on one?
“At my high school after our workout. My brother said, play me one on one. I said, all right. It went back and forth, back and forth — and then my dad stopped the game. He said, come on boys, we’ve got to leave now.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .