West’s Johnson takes game to D-I levelJoliet West’s Marlon Johnson blocks a shot by Hillcrest’s
Virgil Fleming during the Tiger Shootout at
Joliet Central H.S. in Joliet Friday. June, 24, 2011.
Ray Luna ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 27, 2011 2:14PM
He can run the floor and put the ball on the floor.
He has a mid-range game offensively. He can rebound and is a human eraser with his shot blocking.
But the best thing about Joliet West senior-to-be center Marlon Johnson is he is 6-9 — and still growing.
College coaches galore were at the Joliet Central fieldhouse Friday and Saturday for the fourth annual Joliet West Tiger Shootout (the site was changed because of a power outage at West).
West was not in contention for the tournament championship or anything, but the Tigers commanded attention whenever they took the floor.
Everyone wanted to get a close look at Johnson.
The big-time college coaches got an eyeful and then some at an AAU tournament in Chicago a month ago. West played at the University of Illinois last weekend, with Johnson again on a major stage, and the Tiger Shootout was yet another attraction.
Illinois, DePaul, Tennessee, Loyola, Western Virginia and Northern Illinois, among others, already have expressed interest in what has become increasingly rare in this area — a highly recruited big man.
“It’s my dream to play Division I basketball,” said Johnson, sporting a Fighting Illini basketball T-shirt.
Johnson was born in Champaign and lived there until he was 6 years old. He then moved and attended first grade in Joliet.
In his younger life, he never imagined basketball would take him to these heights.
“I went to Hufford (Junior High) and did not play in sixth grade,” he said. “I made the team in seventh grade, but in eighth grade, I didn’t make it.
“I played on the ‘B’ team, and a little on the ‘A’ team, my freshman year at West. Sophomore year I got taller and started.”
Last year, Johnson got his first taste of regular varsity competition and logged considerable minutes. He did some things well, including leading the Tigers in rebounding, but scored only a handful of points per game and was not yet what you would call dominant.
“I was 6-1, 6-2 as a freshman, about 6-5 or 6-6 as a sophomore and 6-7, maybe 6-8, last year,” he said. “I’m 6-9 now — yeah, I may still be growing. I weigh 200 and I’m eating a lot. So I will put on some more weight.”
“Marlon is at the tip of the iceberg,” West coach Luke Yaklich said. “This kid is really operating on two years of basketball where he has seen minutes against quality competition. That’s all.
“Now, put another inch and another 20 pounds on him and consider he can shoot from 15 feet, dribble a little and block a lot of shots, and his game will grow exponentially from now until he enters college.”
Johnson has gotten to the point where major Division I schools are hot on his trail for more reasons than his growth spurt.
“You can’t teach height, but Marlon is a kid who loves the game and is always in the gym,” Yaklich said. “But he’s a big kid who likes to shoot it. We want to get him meaner and tougher inside.
“After our game against Joliet Central last year, I said he was going to be a beast next year. Well, he has stuck with it and learned how to work hard on his own. The question now is how much better he can get between now and November.”
Johnson said an emphasis in the Tigers’ camp is on turning him into the focal point on offense.
“I want to be a lot more of an offensive force this year,” he said. “Coach (Yaklich) said the offense is going to run through me.”
“Our offense is going to run through Marlon Johnson,” Yaklich emphasized. “There were games last year (the Tigers finished 9-16) when we looked good when we did that, and other games where he did not get enough touches.
“Part of that is Marlon himself. He has to learn to work hard without the ball to get in position to get the ball.”
All indications are Johnson will do his part of the preparation. He wants the upcoming season to be the best it can be, personally and for the Tigers.
He said he does not anticipate selecting a college until after the season. But whenever that time comes, he will have plenty of big-time options.
Everyone knows of Marlon.