January 15, 1999
By Cameron Yannayon
OSU Athletic Communications
Anyone who has seen Ken Johnson brutally swat down an opponent’s shot would never guess that–quiet, humble and laid back–are words that best describe the OSU junior from Detroit, Mich. But they do. “Kenny’s a quiet, casual guy. It’s his demeanor by nature,” OSU assistant coach Dave Spiller said. “Sometimes its difficult to bring his aggressiveness out on the court because he’s so laid back, but he has really improved this year.” What would possess someone so soft-spoken and reserved to play a sport as intense and forceful as Big Ten basketball? At 6-11, Johnson is the tallest member of the squad and it was his lofty height in high school that led him to discover the thrill of the game. “I really didn’t like basketball at first,” Johnson said. “I really felt pressure to play from everyone because I was 6-7, so I thought I would just go out and give it a shot.” Joining the Henry Ford High School basketball team as a freshman was Johnson’s first formal introduction to basketball. He did not earn any playing time until he was a sophomore, just five short years ago.
“The first three years I played were really hard because I didn’t know anything about ‘ball,'” Johnson said. “I didn’t know anything about plays and screens and so forth which made everything very frustrating. It’s better now, but I was even having trouble last year.” Last season marked Johnson’s debut for the Buckeyes as he averaged 6.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. He found his niche on defense with 58 blocked shots, a performance good for second overall in the Big Ten. No stranger to dishing out rejections, Johnson averaged 9.5 blocks per game his senior year in high school and continues to excel in that area of his game. To really excel in college and beyond, coaches feel he must develop other aspects of his game. “Kenny’s success to this point has been from his athleticism, which is tremendous for his size, and instinct,” Spiller said. “Now, playing in the Big Ten, he must show more basketball IQ and learn the finer points of the game. This is all part of a learning process that will benefit him down the road.” Spiller said last year was a year for Johnson to gain experience at this level and develop the one thing that has really shown through and improved his game this year. Confidence. “Big guys are expected to be better athletes and basketball players just because they’re tall,” Spiller said. “It takes time to develop confidence and grow out of the ‘shell’ of those expectations. He’s made great strides this year and next season he’ll have two years of experience under his belt. He should be able to really establish himself as a leader and be consistent game in and game out.” Johnson’s performance this year proves that he is quite capable of living up to his potential. He is only (as of 1/13/99)15 blocks shy of surpassing his total from last year with a minimum of 13 games to go this season. He ranks third in the Big Ten and seventh at OSU in all-time rejections. Stepping up his rebounding, Johnson ranks 12th in the league and set career highs in back to back games with 11 against Wisconsin and 12 against Indiana this year. Even though his game has improved all-around, it’s still the idea of blocking a shot that lights Johnson’s eyes up and brings some extra volume and tempo to his calm voice. “You get so much out of blocking a shot,” Johnson said. “It pumps the team up and motivates me to play better and block more shots.” Blocked shots do not just fire up the team, they fire up the thousands on hand for every game at Value City Arena. This really gives the team an advantage that does not go unnoticed by Johnson.
“It makes a huge difference when the crowd goes nuts,” Johnson said. “You expect it to be loud, but sometimes it shocks me just how loud it gets. It’s a real psychological advantage to know that all those people are behind you.” Johnson is quick to credit others in his success on the court. Coaches, teammates and supportive fans to name a few. But most of all he credits God for his motivation and all his triumphs. “Without Him I can do nothing,” Johnson said. Johnson has truly come a long way in his playing ability and maturity but he still has a long way to go. Spiller said Johnson needs to improve his low post game and upper-body strength to excel and shoot for the next level. “He’s a great kid and a joy to coach,” Spiller said. “His potential is limitless. With some hard off-season work for next season, he can improve to the level he needs to be to consider playing professionally. It’s all up to him on just how good he wants to be.”