Once a quiet guard, Neumann’s Johnson a dominant big man

Alize Johnson grew four inches this past offseason. He is now 6-foot-5 and a dominant center.

But he is still the small man in a big family. Johnson’s grandfather is 7-feet tall, as is his cousin Torrence, a starter on Williamsport’s 1999 state championship team. Alize is still growing, so he might one day match those two. That is a scary thought.

Johnson already looms quite big. The former guard has grown literally and figuratively while becoming a Class A all-state candidate. The junior center is averaging a double-double and has helped St. John Neumann (24-2) capture a District 4 championship while earning a spot in Tuesday’s state tournament second round against Math, Civics and Science.

“Playing as a guard all the way up has helped out tremendously,” Johnson said. “I still have that ability and I’m just trying to work on my post play and put it all together.”

Johnson has the size of a center, the moves of a big man, the vision of a guard and the shooting touch of a 3-point ace. He basically has the entire package.

That was apparent again in the first round of states. The three-year starter scored 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dealt eight assists in less than three quarters as Neumann (24-2) cruised to an 84-38 win over Harrisburg Christian. Johnson also made all 12 of his shots from the field and nearly outscored the opponents before exiting late in the third.

“I was feeling good,” Johnson said. “The last game I didn’t play that well so I wanted to make up for that. I wanted to have a good game and that was my main focus.”

Johnson has a lot of those. He started breaking out last year as a 6-1 guard, helping Neumann reach the district final and the state tournament’s second round. This has been a thunderous step forward. Johnson is averaging 18 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and three rebounds per game.

Whatever Neumann needs, Johnson can do. He buried five straight 3-pointers in a huge early-season win at Sullivan County and also muscled up inside late in the year against Muncy to score 26 points and grab 18 rebounds. Johnson has even played point guard and has the kind of vision that would makes quarterbacks envious.

“Alize has been amazing this year in terms of what he can do,” Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. “He realizes that he has to get everyone else involved and he does a good job of that too.”

That speaks as much to Johnson’s maturity as his talent. When he arrived at Neumann two years ago, Johnson was a work in progress. He was a quiet player who showed flashes of brilliance but who also struggled at times as the Knights went 2-20. Last year, Johnson’s ascension coincided with Neumann’s but he remained more of a follower and was a complementary piece.

Watch Johnson in games, practices or even off the court now and one sees how much he has grown this season. After all-state center Mike Wenner graduated, a leadership void needed filled and Johnson made his move. Now Johnson not only leads with his play but also his words. He is a force, but also a motivator and role model.

“Alize is one of those players where he can take over his game with his ability and his voice as well,” Neumann forward Noah Beiter said. “He’s a good leader on and off the court. He’s always trying to help us improve our game in practice and in the games.”

The production Johnson provides is huge. Still, it is hard to imagine Neumann capturing its first district title in 13 years or rallying past Muncy and Sullivan in districts if he was still that quiet but talented guard of the past two years.

As his body has grown, so to has Johnson as a person. The league and district championship banners that Neumann soon will hang validate that.

“Alize has matured as an individual and his personality has just blossomed, especially this past year,” Petcavage said. “He’s not the only captain but it’s pretty much his team. It was pretty much Mike’s team last year. Not that Alize was not a big part of that, but he took a backseat and this year I think he made a conscious effort to step forward and say it’s my turn to be a leader and that’s what I wanted him to do and I’m so glad he’s been able to do that this year.”

Forget how much bigger Johnson’s father and cousin are. Look at the player and person Johnson has become. No ruler can measure that.

He already is mighty big.