1A MVP: Green River’s Johnson dominated with strong versatility
Published: March 21, 2012 05:15PM
Updated: March 21, 2012 11:38PM
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Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Justin Johnson, of Green River High School, is the 1A basketball MVP for 2012.

A long line of men in the Johnson family have played basketball at Green River — for 18 years, the Pirates haven’t had a team without one.

Next year, that streak will end. But the last chapter might have been the best yet.

Justin Johnson, a 6-foot-6 forward, grabbed the state’s attention by leading all classifications with a stunning 33.4 points per game. Every opponent Green River played knew that Johnson was going to be the main focal point of the offense — it didn’t matter.

Johnson just conquered. Everyone.

“I didn’t think I would be as consistent,” Johnson says. “I figured I’d start out strong then back down and be at 20 points like all the other guys. Coach just told me to keep scoring.”

Johnson wasn’t just another tall stiff. He had plenty of background playing in the shooting guard spot, and his speed could catch others by surprise. His Green River teammates set screens and picks for him, and when smaller guards spotted him up, he could knock down the shots with a higher reach.

On offense, Johnson was just a one-man wrecking crew. He scored 105 points in a set of back-to-back games against Monument Valley and Navajo Mountain. Only once did he score less than 20 points. He also averaged 18 rebounds per game, leading the state, and shot 52 3-pointers. So no, he wasn’t your average center, and he had a lot of brothers to learn from.

“I would watch them in the state tournament and always thought, ‘That’s going to be me one day,’ ” Johnson says. “I loved watching my older brothers play, and playing with them.”

The senior was a huge reason Green River took first place in region and made a dent in the state tournament. The Pirates went 2-2 and placed seventh, and Johnson was even impressive in losses. Against Liahona, he scored 40 of the team’s 43 points. Johnson will play next year at Utah Valley University before departing on an LDS mission, but his senior campaign will always be something to remember. Not necessarily because he was dominant, not necessarily because his season places third in the state record books.

Johnson is most proud of getting Green River on the map when most counted them out.

It’s definitely a plus, it’s a positive note,” Johnsons says. “People were looking at us like we might not get a .500 season. No one really thought we’d take region or place at state, but we did.”

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon