Any metaphorical picture of the Tigers’ Geron Johnson requires that he hold a basketball in one hand and baggage in the other.
He can never just be another college basketball player. Too much history, too much talent, too much potential to change the fortunes of this University of Memphis season.
So after Johnson went for 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting (3-of-5 from 3-point range) and added 3 assists, 3 steals and 3 rebounds in the Tigers’ resounding 84-58 victory over Ohio University – a Sweet 16 team last season – Johnson immediately had another game to play. This game, where reporters ask about the checkered past because of the breakout game in the present, figured to be more difficult. Yet after playing with purpose and poise on the court, Johnson was just as smooth in the FedExForum pressroom.
He answered that, yes, he does feel a kinship with the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph, who said Memphis fans accepted him for who he is and did not focus on past problems.
“I feel the same way, I promise you. I’ve heard nothing (from fans) about tribulations I’ve had in the past,” Johnson said, looking each questioner in the eye and finishing his answers with “yes, sir.”
The media, of course, will always mention the past and the better Johnson plays the better the rise-from-the-ashes story becomes. A native of Dayton, Ohio, the 6-3, 197-pound guard passed through two junior colleges before transferring to Memphis for his junior season.
University of Memphis guard Geron Johnson scored 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting during the Tigers’ 84-58 win over Ohio University.
(Photo: Spruce Derden–USA TODAY Sports)
Actually, to be correct, he was dismissed from Chipola College in Florida after incidents with marijuana and then was tossed from Garden City Community College in Kansas after an incident that started with him being charged with theft; in high school, he was arrested for attempted burglary.
“It’s never going to go away,” Johnson said matter-of-factly. “I really use it as motivation. It happened. I’m past it. We can talk about it if you want.”
Upon bringing Johnson here, Tigers coach Josh Pastner set up special rules, including a midnight curfew. Johnson says the rules have not been eased and, yes, that means when he’s out with teammates he has to watch the clock and head home before they do.
There is no reason to think Pastner will change this game plan. Why should he? The Tigers didn’t have Johnson in the Bahamas – he had to sit out the first three games for a minor NCAA infraction before he transferred to Memphis – and they went 1-2. Even before his performance against Ohio, Johnson had shown flashes of another-gear motor and another-level toughness that this team sorely needed. Plus, on a team with many great athletes, Johnson might be the best. He even seems to enjoy playing defense.
Former Garden City coach Kris Baumann told Yahoo! Sports that Johnson is a “poor man’s Russell Westbrook.” He also said Johnson was a good teammate and just made immature decisions. It is what Pastner believes as well.
“He made some mistakes, but he’s not a bad person,” Pastner said. “His spirit is a kind spirit. He’s actually respectful. We took a chance.”
And by “we” he means U of M President Shirley Raines, Athletic Director Tom Bowen and himself.
“We put our necks on the line,” Pastner said.
Which is nothing new in big-time college basketball. A special talent – and Johnson is that – often merits special consideration. But that’s not the same as a guarantee. So when one reporter asked if he was confident he wouldn’t “screw up” again, he answered with a mixture of confidence and caution.
“No issues,” he said. “But I’m gonna have to showcase (my accountability).” He paused, then added a last line of day-to-day reality: “Easier said than done.”