LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) – David Johnson has to be one the most self-effacing, ego-averse MVPs in the history of the Sweet Sixteen.
After the gifted 6-foot-5 senior had 22 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and 2 assists to spark Trinity past Scott County 50-40 in the finals of the 102nd Boys’ State Basketball Tournament in Rupp Arena on Sunday afternoon, he steadfastly refused the mantle of hero.
Reporters tried to elicit some acknowledgment from Johnson on his fabulous play by asking him questions about his clutch shooting and his gnarly defense, but his answers always circled back to his teammates.
What about his buzzer-beating three-pointer from the right wing to close the first half that tied the game (22-22) and prompted Trinity’s other players to do a happy dance to the locker room?
“I know my teammates are going to feed off of it, but none of that stuff fazes me,” Johnson said. “I like to keep a straight face and stay poised whatever I’m doing.”
Did he ever worry back in late December when he hurt his knee that the Shamrocks’ season might go south?
“Never a doubt,” he said with conviction, noting that Trinity barely lost to Scott County (56-53) in early January when he was sidelined.
“I always had faith in my teammates. I knew they were going to come back even harder, with our without me.”
As Trinity Coach Mike Szabo stressed after beating Scott County in the Sweet Sixteen finals for a second time (the first was in 2012), “You’re not winning a state championship with one guy. You’re winning it with a complete team. The chemistry with this group . . . I’ve never seen anything like it. They love each other.”
To be sure, Johnson got Rocks-solid support from his teammates, especially Stan Turnier (17 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals), Jamil Hardaway (8 points, 6 rebounds) and Kamari Kenemore (4 assists, 2 steals).
But Trinity could not have won without Johnson, as Scott County Coach Billy Hicks attested.
“I think two teams really battled their tail off, but they had David Johnson and we didn’t,” Hicks said. “Lorenzo (Williams) guarded him as good as you can guard anybody, but he just hit tough shots.
“We wanted to work him hard for 32 minutes and hopefully wear him down and cause him to miss some shots. But he hit some tough shots. Gosh, I don’t see Kentucky or anybody hit shots like that in here.”
Scott County got burned by another standout in last year’s state finals when CJ Fredrick had 32 points to lead Covington Catholic to victory.
But Hicks said Fredrick had a better supporting cast than Johnson.
“We really tried to stop David Johnson, but he just played a great game. He’s one of the best I’ve seen.”
Johnson’s four-game totals in Rupp this week weren’t over-the-top impressive: 61 points, 29 rebounds, 12 assists, 8 blocks. But then he sat out a lot of the second half in Trinity’s first- and second-round romps over Johnson Central and Ashland.
But he logged 31 minutes in the Rocks’ 42-40 escape against Campbell County, and he played all 32 minutes against Scott County.
Szabo described Johnson, who has signed with Louisville, as “the best player I’ve ever coached at Trinity.”
Johnson didn’t win Mr. Basketball honors, but Szabo believes “he’s the best player in Kentucky. He’s so unselfish. He’ll do whatever it takes to win the ball game. He can feel when he has to take over a little bit and go get a bucket. He knows when he has to pass it; he has tremendous vision. And he knows when he has to go get a huge rebound.
“He’s just a champion, a winner.”
And Trinity has another state title trophy to show for it.