Three years ago, he was a struggling freshman point guard. The learning curve was steep and his team finished 2-20.
Now, Alize Johnson is one of the state's premier centers and his team is ranked among the state's best Class A teams. Now, Johnson stands alongside some of Neumann's all-time great players.
Johnson put on a show Monday at the Catholic Community Center and nearly recorded a triple-double while scoring his 1,000th career point in a 70-49 win over Selinsgrove. The four-year starter scored 28 points, grabbed 22 rebounds, dealt seven assists and blocked three shots as Neumann (6-0) cruised and remained undefeated.
Alize Johnson of St.?John Neumann shoots as Angel Figueroa of Selinsgrove defends Monday at the Catholic Community Center. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"My freshman year I didn't do too well, but I've played with a lot of great basketball players like Mike (Wenner), Jordan (Cole), Tyree (Vidal) and they helped develop my game," Johnson said. "Players like those guys got me better and I gained more experience and that's helped me get where I'm at now."
Johnson has grown literally and figuratively since that freshman year. Not coincidentally, so has Neumann. Johnson has grown at least six inches since his rookie season and Neumann has reached the state tournament's second round the past two years while capturing the program's first district championship since 2000 last year.
At the heart of that resurgence has been Johnson. He has become one of the state's most complete players and he can beat opponents in numerous ways. Johnson also is the team's undisputed leader and has helped the Knights win 48 games the past three seasons.
"He's come an amazing way not just as a player but as a young man," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "I started him as a point guard as a freshman and he took his lumps and I told him the other day I think I scarred him for life and he said, 'No, that's why I play the way I do now."
Johnson entered the game needing 17 points to reach 1,000. Against a small team, that appeared a lock but Selinsgrove made him earn it the hard way. Johnson also appeared tight early and missed some shots he almost always makes. Still, Johnson was making an impact and the moment arrived with 4 minutes, 46 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Freshman guard Kevin Anderson sprinted down court and appeared headed for a layup. Instead he stopped and found a cutting Johnson on the left side of the basket. Johnson easily converted the layup and a loud standing ovation from a big crowd ensued as happy teammates engulfed him. Never smiling, Johnson simply shook hands before running over to his family and handing it the basketball. A player who almost always stays calm, did not change despite joining an exclusive club.
It was more about getting back to work. The mission still was incomplete.
"It was a big accomplishment but I was more worried about winning the game than actually getting the 1,000 points," Johnson said. "It was on my mind, but I was just trying to focus on the game."
"It's a great moment for him and he should be excited but that's kind of the way he plays," Petcavage said. "He really stepped up."
Johnson took over the game following the celebration. He scored 16 second-half points and always had an answer every time Selinsgrove threatened to pull within single digits. The Seals pulled as close as 55-44 with six minutes remaining, but Johnson displayed his whole package over the next four minutes. He had a hand in 13 straight points, dealing three assists while beautifully seeing the entire court and dominating the boards.
By the time that run ended, Neumann led 68-46. Johnson exited seconds later with 2:35 remaining, again receiving a nice ovation.
"I thought that I could dominate and get a lot more points but they played real tough defense," Johnson said. "Once I had it I started to calm down and just play my game."
Richard Allen also played a solid all-around game, scoring 13 points and making five steals. Allen was outstanding in the first quarter, scoring nine points and sparking Neumann as it built a 23-12 lead. Anderson added six points and three steals while Noah Beiter played strong defense and dealt three assists. Ryan Reid added eight points and displayed some nice post moves.
"Now that it's over I think it's a big relief for him (Johnson)," Petcavage said. "He's reached that milestone and we can get to other things."
Isaiah Rapp 3 0-0 9, Angel Figueroa 2 0-0 4, Andrew Sickle 3 0-0 7, Andrew Ryan 1 0-0 2, Ethan Fadale 3 2-2 10, Quinn Reiland 0 2-2 2, Logan Sears 3 0-0 7, Thomas Lamont 1 0-0 3, Jin Zhang 2 2-4 6. Totals 17 6-8 49.
Alize Johnson 13 2-7 28, Richard Allen 6 1-1 13, Kamaal Burkholder 2 0-0 4, Noah Beiter 1 2-2 4, Kevin Anderson 3 0-2 6, Luke Iarkowski 1 0-2 2, Otis Anderson 0 0-0 0, Cody Forsburg 1 0-0 3, Ra-Quan Mars 1 0-0 2. Totals 32 5-14 70.
Selinsgrove12 8 18 11-49
Neumann23 10 20 17-70
3-pointers: Selinsgrove 7 (Rapp 3, Fadale 2, Sears, Lamont); Neumann 1 (Forsburg).
Records: Neumann 6-0. Selinsgrove 0-6.
JV Score: Selinsgrove 57-53.