Nottingham’s Darell Johnson lets a jumper fly for his 1000th point against Trenton. Photo by Michael A. Sabo
By Rich Fisher
Jan. 12: Darell “D-Jo” Johnson said it was the floor. Chris “The Baron” Raba thought it might have been nerves.
Whatever it was or wasn’t did not last, as Johnson overcame a rocky first quarter to score his 1,000th point and lead the Nottingham High boys’ basketball team to a 71-54 victory over Trenton at Rivera Middle School tonight.
In the first quarter, Johnson shot 1-for-4 and committed three turnovers as Trenton stormed to a 22-8 lead. It was the biggest deficit of the season for the Northstars.
Asked if Johnson was nervous, Raba said, “I think he might have been. I texted his mom this morning and said, ‘He may be a little nervous the first couple of minutes.’”
D-Jo said no way.
“I wasn’t nervous, it was more because the floor was slippery,” he insisted. “It was a hard time getting warmed up and getting started. Once me and the guys got flowing there was no stopping us.”
There was no denying the floor was slippery. The unseasonable weather made the gym humid and the court wet. Doors were open and portable fans were brought in for the varsity game after the JV game had to be halted to wipe the surface.
Fearful of someone getting hurt, Raba conferred with official Troy Stevenson, who assured the coach the game would be played under safe conditions. Other than a few slips, that was the case.
But more importantly than the floor, might have been Johnson’s whereabouts on it. Since moving to the wing this season, he has taken his scoring to another level. But Raba didn’t like the fact he was firing threes early and moved him down low in the second quarter. From there he took off.
“In big games we need our bread and butter down on the block,” Raba said.
And while it may not rank up there with Nick Saban yanking Jalen Hurts in favor of Tua Tagovailoa this past Monday, it was a pretty astute coaching move by the Baron as Johnson finished with 23 points and 18 rebounds.
Johnson busted out for 13 second-quarter points as Nottingham overcame the hole it was in and settled for a 30-30 tie at halftime. Not to be lost in the comeback was the play of reserves Javon Jenkins and Antonio Brown, who came up with some key baskets during the run.
“We’ve been waiting for a test all season,” Johnson said. “Now we got tested. When we’re down 14 we’re not gonna really back down. At halftime we talked about it, it was nothing. We had to come back and fight harder, we just had to come back and win this game.”
“I told the guys at halftime there’s going to be a time during the year when we’re down at halftime; and this is nothing,” Raba added. “As sophomores they went 11-12, we were down a lot. Nothing fazes them. They weren’t fazed at all being down 14. I called a timeout and they were like ‘Yeah, you know, we’ll be all right.’”
One thing the Stars had to adjust to was the crowd noise, as this was the loudest hostile environment they experienced so far this year.
“This is a tough atmosphere to play in, it’s really loud in here,” Raba said. “The kids can’t hear anything, they can’t hear me at all. We knew that coming in. We have some signs for some of our plays. But we’ve got mostly five seniors out there, I said ‘Guys, everything we do just repeat it on the floor, just play through it.”
Which is exactly what Nottingham did. The game’s final tie was 40-40 before Kostro Montina banged a 3-pointer to start Nottingham on a 9-1 run to end the third quarter. Trenton had answers earlier in the game, but began to wear down and the Northstars kept building on the advantage in the final eight minutes.
When Johnson scored to make it 58-43 early in the quarter, the impressive showing of Stars fans knew he was just one point away from his milestone and they cheered wildly whenever he got the ball. Finally, with 3:09 remaining, a missed Richie Jones shot was put back by Johnson on a short jumper in the paint, making him and Cliff Joseph the only two 1,000-point scorers in school history to play on the same team.
Raba felt the milestone is a testament to hard work.
“If you could see the development from him as a freshman to now it’s unbelievable,” the coach said. “You have no idea how much time he’s put in over his four years. I mean, we’re in the weight room every night in the off-season, he’s there every night. He works on basketball 365 days a year.”
It was right after his sophomore year that Raba told D-Jo what he was capable of.
“We did a lot of talking over the summer and he told me if I worked hard, had a lot of dedication to this and played like I really loved the sport I could be a thousand-point scorer,” Johnson said. “I believed in myself, I kept working hard and now I’m able to become a thousand-point scorer.”
Joseph, who is the program’s all-time scorer, had 15 points and eight rebounds while Jones had 11, Montina tallied eight and Ku’Jane “K-Jo” Johnson and Brown had six apiece. Joseph also had some outstanding assists, as Nottingham continues to showcase players who can score and pass the ball with equal ability.
“That helps me a lot,” Johnson said. “All my teammates before the game told me ‘We’re gonna make sure we get you your thousand tonight,’ and that’s why I love my teammates.”
Hamilton boys win fourth straight as Riley leads balanced attack
Dane Riley had a monster night with 20 points and 20 rebounds to help Hamilton West to a 65-62 victory over Notre Dame. It was the fourth straight win for the Hornets (5-3), who put four players in double figures.
Zahir Davis had 14 points, Chris Charles and Tyler Beebe each had 11 and Javon Porter tallied nine.
“Cartier (Bowman) was awesome for them, but we were able to hold them to 10 points in the last quarter and actually kept him scoreless when we went to a zone,” said coach Jay Malloy while calling in from the 5 Points. “It was just a great team win.”
Steinert fell to Hightstown, 69-40, to fall to 1-7.
Steinert girls survive Hightstown for fifth consecutive triumph
In township girls’ games tonight, Steinert won its fifth straight, 33-30, over Hightstown to improve to 8-3. Natalie Mehl had 12 points and six rebounds, Leila Collazo had seven points, Tatiana Dorner grabbed eight rebounds and Erika Golik had seven boards.
Nottingham fell to Trenton, 45-33, in a game that had to be halted in the first half and moved to the Northstars old gym because the floor was getting too slippery. Patricia Penix had a big night with 16 points while Liz Kerekes added 11.
Hamilton remained winless with a loss to Notre Dame.