Scott County Central boys basketball player Stewart Johnson eager to make up for missing last year's final four

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Scott County Central's Stewart Johnson goes up for a shot as Chadwick's Nick Thompson looks on during the second quarter of the Class 1 quarterfinal Saturday in Poplar Bluff, Mo. Johnson finished with 20 points in the game. (Fred Lynch)

MORLEY, Mo. -- Watching his Scott County Central Braves teammates win a second consecutive state title a season ago was not something Stewart Johnson really could enjoy -- at least not in the way he had hoped when the season began.

"It was tragic," he said Tuesday, just after his final practice on his home court.

"It was just tough watching them play, winning state and not being part of it. I mean, I practiced every day with them still and I ran with them, but it still wasn't the same as being out there. It was kind of heartbreaking."

The senior point guard was ruled academically ineligible for the second half of last season and only could watch in street clothes from the bench as his teammates claimed state title No. 14 for their school.

"I know they was disappointed, but they knew I'm the type of person if I make a mistake, I'm better from my mistake," Johnson said. "I'm always better from my mistakes. It's always good to learn from your mistakes."

Scott County Central's Stewart Johnson has scored 47 points over his last two games. (Fred Lynch)

He speaks about the situation directly and maturely, just as he speaks about basketball, his team and his future, which will involve playing college basketball next year.

"I have a son and I know me getting my education, going to college and furthering my education is going to make the future for him brighter," said Johnson, whose son Tristain turns 8 months old today. "Him seeing me going to college hopefully motivates him to do better and more."

The disappointment still is there when he talks about last season, but it is accompanied by his resolve to make amends -- something he continues to strive for with stellar play and leadership for the Braves as they enter the final four in Columbia this weekend.

"I was very excited for the year," Johnson said. "I was kind of nervous coming in early on because I hadn't played a game since the Christmas tournament last year -- Dec. 30 of last year. I remember the date. It was the championship. We played Cape Central. I had 17. I remember all that."

With the help of some much-needed motivation from teammates Otto Porter and Bobby Hatchett, Johnson continued to practice with the team and improve his game in the almost 11 months he waited between games.

Scott County Central's Stewart Johnson dribbles away from the defensive pressure by Advance's Darren VanGennip during their second-round Southeast Missourian Christmas tournament game in December at the Show Me Center. (Kristin Eberts)

"He knew it was something he had to keep working at," SCC coach Kenyon Wright said. "He was disappointed and everything as well as the rest of the team was disappointed, but it gave him an opportunity to work on his game on an individual stage. He did a good job of staying with it and working with it and getting better throughout that time."

Johnson resumed his role as the Braves point guard at the beginning of this season, a position he played even with Hatchett, an all-state guard, on the roster last season.

"The first game I was nervous the whole game," Johnson said. "I had four points. Our first game of the year I had four points and we lost by eight to North Little Rock and I'll never forget it.

"I was pretty nervous because, yeah, I've been practicing, but I mean practice isn't compared to a game, especially when you're playing some guys that can really play. So I was nervous coming in, and it took me that first game to get back in the hang of things. After that I was good to go."

The Braves lost just one more game all season -- to a nationally ranked Simeon team from Chicago in December -- and have cruised to the final four. The last time they won a game by less than 20 points was a 90-71 win over Charleston on Jan. 14.

Scott County Central's Stewart Johnson shoots against Woodland's Nick Deck (10) and Neil Johnson, left, during the first quarter Monday, Dec. 27, 2010 in the Southeast Missourian Christmas Tournament at the Show Me Center. (Fred Lynch)

Johnson averaged 13 points and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 65 percent from the floor through SCC's district championship game.

But those numbers can tell just part of what Johnson, whose play can be overlooked as 6-foot-9 Division I recruit Porter continues to make jaws drop wherever SCC plays, brings to the floor for the Braves.

"I'm the big brother," said Johnson, the unquestioned vocal leader of the team. "I've always been vocal, but I always played my role. Last year it wasn't as much of my role, but I was vocal last year, too. It wasn't as much of my role to be as vocal because we had Bobby."

Johnson has earned his time at the Braves' helm, just like Hatchett waited before him, Drew Thomas the year before that and so on down the list of recent standouts at SCC.

"You've definitely got to wait your turn for a bigger role," Johnson said. "I had to last year. Dominique [Porter] and LaMarcus [Steward] are going to do more of that next year. It's more of a wait your turn, and when it's your turn, you've got to do your job well."

The other thing a stat line can't tell you is how Johnson torments players on defense. Even on a team known for its defensive excellence, he stands out.

"I've been proud of him because he's been a real good leader for us -- vocally and defensively," said Wright, who generally hands out compliments about as often as his team loses.

"He usually guards their best player. If they've got a kid that's going to score a lot of points, he's on him most of the time. We played the [Ryan] Kleffer kid from Richland over there. He averaged about 30 a game and Stewart held him to zero in a half. He's a good defender. He knows how to get down, sit down and guard somebody."

Johnson already has played in two final fours, helping the Braves to a third-place finish as a freshman before winning a state title as a sophomore, but a championship this weekend would go a long way in healing last year's heartbreak.

"I just said from the time I got ineligible that I was going to come back next year with a vengeance, and that's what I've tried to do," Johnson said. "And if I get the state championship I can say I've accomplished my goal."

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