ELKHART — The steady chatter of children during a break between basketball drills in the Tolson Center gymnasium provided plenty of evidence that kids like to talk.
That much isn’t news, but it was news to Jawan Hines that he could talk, even should talk, while playing defense out on the court.
“That’s the newest thing, talking on defense,” Hines, 13, said Friday, Aug. 9, when asked what he’s learned so far at Todd Johnson’s inaugural one-day, six-hour boys basketball camp, put on in conjunction with Tolson and the city parks department.
“The coaches are teaching us about defense and telling us to talk on defense, just in case (a screen) comes up,” Hines explained.
Johnson, the former Elkhart Memorial star who is getting ready for his sophomore season at Northern Kentucky University, was joined by four of his ex-Crimson Charger teammates — Jyrron Cooper, Jaron Davis, Antonio Sanders and Urston Smith — along with former Elkhart Central standout Terell Street and Jerron Jamerson, Goshen College’s top scorer last season, in putting about 40 campers through their paces.
“It’s going well,” Johnson said about three hours in. “The kids are really working hard and they have a will to get better. I like that.”
“They’re great,” Micah Hart, 11, declared of the coaches. “They’re teaching us new things, like getting in a defensive stance and stealing the ball. And shooting. I like shooting.”
Hart admitted he likes shooting more than he does passing, but acknowledged, as a nearby coach listened in, that he needs to do both.
“I want to impart playing together, working on defense, and with shooting, I’m stressing ‘BEEF’ — balance, eyes, elbow and follow-through,” Johnson said. “If we can just get the fundamentals down, it’ll help. Kids are really lacking that nowadays. Most of them just want to play video games, then just go out there and play basketball games, but they don’t realize how much work they have to put into it.”
Johnson, known as an unwavering worker during his Memorial days, has long had to put in that kind of effort to help compensate for his smallish size. He’s listed as 5-foot-9 on NKU’s roster — up from the 5-8 he was listed at while leading the Chargers to their best-ever season at 24-2 in 2011-12, with the program’s first regional title in 23 years — but even 5-9 appears to be a generous measurement.
“There’s no shortcuts,” Johnson said. “You gotta work out every day. You have to embrace what you have to do, and do it repetitively. Do it and do it and do it. It’s the only way you’re going to get better.”
Johnson, who’s been back in Elkhart for about two weeks, returns to Northern Kentucky on Aug. 17.
His freshman season last winter coincided with the Norse’s debut season as a member of NCAA Division I. The team went 11-16, including 9-9 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Johnson appeared in 26 games, averaging 2.8 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals and 13.4 minutes. His steals-to-minutes ratio was tops on the team.
Now NKU’s eye-popping schedule has been cranked up for this coming season to include visits to such hallowed halls (and storied foes) as Rupp Arena (Kentucky), the Dean Dome (North Carolina) and Mackey Arena (Purdue).
Johnson grins as those venues are mentioned.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in those kinds of places,” Johnson said. “It’s finally here, but we’ve got a long way to go. We’re a work in progress, but this is exposure for us.”
Johnson is hopeful that his own exposure, as in playing time, will increase this coming season, but is also unassuming about it.
“It’s a fight every day,” he said. “Your spot’s not guaranteed. You gotta work hard. I think I can experience significant playing time over last year and will have more of a leadership role, but only if I do what I need to do.”
In the meantime Friday, he was embracing his first chance to lead a camp.
“My name’s on the brochure, so it’s a responsibility, but it’s also just a line of progress,” Johnson said. “I did two or three (NKU) camps back in June, so in putting this together, I just imitated what my coach did, put myself in his shoes and went from there.”