Neumann grad Johnson ready for next step to NBA

Nobody laughed when a young Alize Johnson said he would someday play NBA basketball. That would be rude. Still, few took him seriously.

How could they? The teenager entered high school standing just 5-foot-9 and was part of a 2-20 St. John Neumann team his freshman season. Fast forward six years. Johnson grew to 6-5 by his senior season, became an all-state forward and led Neumann to the state semifinals. He then became a junior college standout at Frank Phillips and earned a scholarship to Missouri State where he became one of the country’s premier mid-major players. Oh yeah, he grew another four inches and is now 6-9.

Johnson worked out with the Boston Celtics last June, earned MVP honors at the prestigious Adidas Nations Camp and now is projected as going anywhere from the middle of the first round to the high second round in June’s NBA draft. The dream is nearly a reality.

And Johnson is getting the last laugh.

“There were people who believed in me, but to actually be in this position is a shocker to a lot of people,” Johnson said. “I just want to keep that chip on my shoulder. I’m just going to keep working and keep my mind right before it actually does happen.”

That chip has become a boulder over the years. Those doubting him really lit a fire that has extinguished many an opponent and that keeps Johnson soaring upward.

“That’s pretty much been my whole life,” Johnson said. “In high school I had to work hard to show what I could do and even after I went go to junior college I still didn’t get recruited by the highest schools. Every time I get a chance to prove myself I try and take advantage of that.”

Johnson is doing so again in impressive fashion. He is in the midst of a super senior season, becoming a team captain and averaging a double-double for a second straight season. Johnson is averaging 14.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while also still handling the ball like the point guard he was his freshman year at Neumann and hitting 27 three-pointers. Johnson is the main reason Missouri State has a shot at earning its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1999.

Johnson’s stats are nearly identical to his debut season at Missouri State a year ago when he burst onto the Division I scene and averaged a double-double while becoming a Missouri Valley Conference-All Tournament selection after leading his team to the semifinals. The difference is he is now a known commodity. He is recognized by every Missouri State fan and NBA scouts know all about him.

“Alize is a high-level player who has the opportunity to have an impact at the next level,” Missouri State coach Paul Lusk said. “Rebounding is his ticket. He has a nose for the basketball that you can’t coach or teach. He just seems to know where the ball is coming off, and he puts himself in a position to go get it. His ability to handle the basketball also makes him such a complete player.”

Following his breakthrough season last spring, Johnson declared for the NBA Draft. Because players are allowed to retain their NCAA eligibility if they do not hire an agent, Johnson used the opportunity to see what kind of attention he could draw and what he could learn. It was quite a moment for a player who competed during high school in front of hundreds in a Class A-sized gym. It also was a moment that he owned, competing against fellow potential NBA players.

“It was eye-opening just walking into the building after coming from Neumann and then off to junior college. It was shocking when I was in the practice facility but I really had fun with it and enjoyed the feedback,” Johnson said. “They told me to go back to school and try to do the same thing that I did last year which is average a double-double and shoot the ball well and just go out there and win games. That was the most important part, be a leader out there.”

The Celtics workout provided Johnson an opportunity and an even bigger one came when he was selected to compete in the player-invite only Adidas Nations Camp in Las Vegas. Johnson was competing against the best of the best college players out there and picked the perfect time to play the best. Johnson earned MVP honors while being led by NBA coaches, turned heads and opened eyes. In terms of his NBA stock rising, that performance provided the turning point.

It was after his performance there that Johnson started appearing on mock NBA draft boards. He has gone higher on most of those boards since and continues helping his stock while playing at Missouri State.

“I went into camp with people not knowing a lot about me. I was one of the last people that was called and I was excited about the invite and I just prepared hard for the opportunity,” Johnson said. “NBA coaches and assistants were all over the place and it was fun to see what they expect. Now I want to have a great senior year and try to make something happen for the program so when you leave you make a name for yourself and that team that you’re playing on.”

Look at Johnson’s resume. He has done that everywhere along his basketball journey. He led Neumann to its best season since 1972 as a senior. He helped transform Frank Phillips in his two years there and now he is helping Missouri State become a league title contender.

“He’s not selfish with (the ball), and finds ways to get his teammates involved,” Lusk said. “It’s truly a joy to coach him because he has such a hunger to learn and get better, and he’s such a quality person on and off the court.”

Johnson has had his doubters at every stop. Each time he has turned those critics into fans. Come next October when the next NBA season starts, Johnson could have more fans than he ever dreamed.

Believe that.

“It’s really really cool. You have the whole city behind you here and coming from a small school it’s like everyone is with you on your success,” Johnson said. “It made me comfortable being here in college and knowing that I have a lot of support back home. I just want to keep making people proud at home.”

PUTBACKS

Hughesville (7-7) is coming on strong and won three straight games last week, including big victories against Lewisburg and HAC-III leader Mount Carmel. Hughesville defeated Mount Carmel, 62-54, highlighting its improvement against a team that had won the first game, 71-38. Matt Myers had 21 points against Lewisburg and Taylor Mason averaged 16.7 points and 14.3 rebounds in the three wins … Jersey Shore snapped a four-game losing streak and moved back into a tie for first place with Central Mountain in the HAC-I, routing Midd-West, 58-30 as Jay Dincher provided 17 points, eight rebounds and made three steals … Sullivan County (11-4) played an outstanding game last Wednesday and thumped previously undefeated Millville, 52-35. The Griffins opened a 25-point third-quarter lead, snapped Millville’s 13-game winning streak and later in the week clinched their seventh playoff berth in eight seasons … Nick Shedleski scored a career-high 36 points and drained seven 3-pointers as Lewisburg defeated Shikellamy, 75-60 last Thursday. Two nights later, Tony Manzano dropped 24 points on Lewisburg and Quaylin Rice recorded a double-double as Milton defeated the Dragons, 57-49 … Defending District 4 Class AA champion North Penn-Mansfield (12-5) has won eight of its last nine games and clinched a 10th straight playoff berth by going 3-0 last week. Nick Kasper scored 23 points in a 61-48 win against Cowanesque Valley and Garrett David and Dylan Meyer both had double-double performances in the two other games. David went for 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists Friday against Williamson.

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Boys Basketball Teams

1. Williamsport (9-6)

Point guard Marcus Simmons has been surging over the last month and scored a career-high 24 points while adding six assists in Saturday’s thrilling 71-68 overtime win against Loyalsock. Just as important as the production, Simmons provides is the leadership he shows and demeanor with which he plays.

“What I love about him so much he has the ability to flush the last play and understand the next play is the most important play,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. “A lot of kids don’t have that ability. They will try and throw a woe is me party, but he’s able to step up and focus on the next play.”

Williamsport did that throughout Saturday’s game, overcoming an 11-point second-quarter deficit and then rallying after Loyalsock fought back to take a six-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Al-Tamar Jason is having a solid senior season and recorded a double-double, scoring 18 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dealing five assists.

2. Wellsboro (17-1)

A challenge like the one Wellsboro faces tonight at Montoursville should provide a boost as the playoffs approach. The Green Hornets are dominating the NTL-I as they close in on a second straight league title and have won their last 15 games by double-digit margins. Forward Brandyn Tuttle is having a fantastic season and leads the area in double-doubles with 11. He recorded two more last week and has 39 points and 25 rebounds in his last two games. Andrew Brelo is coming on strong as well and put together two of his best scoring performances of the season last week.

3. Loyalsock (11-4)

Saturday’s loss stings, but it also should help Loyalsock a lot moving forward. Duplicate the kind of performance they put together against Williamsport and the Lancers could be mighty dangerous come playoff time. Loyalsock defeated Shamokin and Milton before running into Williamsport and clinched its 18th straight playoff berth. Mitch Klingerman has made huge strides during his senior season and scored 23 points in the 72-54 win against Milton. The same goes for point guard Anthony Pastore who had 17 points and six assists against Williamsport.

4. Montoursville (10-4)

Mifflinburg ended Montoursville’s six-game winning streak Saturday, defeating the Warriors, 59-52 Montoursville has little time to think about that defeat as it hosts Wellsboro tonight. The Warriors played super defense in two wins last week, downing Bloomsburg and Lewisburg by 53 combined points. Bloomsburg is a potential Class AAA playoff team and Montoursville held it to two first-half points. Montoursville continues receiving production throughout its rotation and four players scored in double figures against Lewisburg, including John McCarthy who had 22 points and hit six 3-pointers.

5. St. John Neumann (10-4)

The Knights are coming on strong and are in sole possession of first in the Mid-Penn after rallying from a four-point deficit in the final minute last Monday and defeating Sullivan County, 55-51. Neumann has not lost a league game since 2013 and has different players emerging as threats. Freshman David Hill scored 22 points against Sullivan while inside threats Noah Persun and Jaiden Cioffi both had 10 in Saturday’s win against CMVT. Malaki Parlante is a player to watch and the sophomore scored 10 points against Benton while Andrew Fish added 11 from the outside.

Players of the Week

John Saxe, Sullivan County and Dalton Prough, Wellsboro

Saxe is a relentless worker who has developed into one of the area’s best all-around players the last four seasons. Saxe averaged 13.7 points and 8.7 points last week. Saxe is a 1,300-point scorer, but also is one of the district’s best passers and does a great job getting his teammates involved. He dealt his 300th career assist Saturday against Montgomery and also is closing in on 500 career rebounds.

Wellsboro is 15-0 since Prough returned from a broken collarbone suffered during football season and the senior continues showing why he is one of the area’s premier and most versatile players. Prough recorded two double-doubles in three wins last week, averaging 15.7 points and 10 rebounds per game. He capped his week with a 12-point, 14-rebound, 4-block, 3-steal performance in a 61-34 win at playoff-bound Troy.

Game of the Week

St. John Neumann at Sullivan County

Just nine nights after Neumann won its thriller against Sullivan County last Monday, these two rivals meet again Wednesday in Laporte. The Griffins could pull into a first-place tie with Neumann in the Mid-Penn while also beating it for the first time since 2012. Two of the last three in this series have been determined by four points so expect another good battle.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

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