Sports

Johnson back in business for SK

Recruiting is generally a specialty left for college coaches.

But when post Nick Johnson didn’t try out for the Wolves’ basketball team last season, coach John Callaghan gave his best sales pitch.

“He came to my house for an hour and tried to talk me into playing,” Johnson said. “It was hard to say no to him like that.”

Johnson said his family was dealing with personal issues — he declined to discuss them in detail — at the time, and said he couldn’t return until they were addressed. He said it wasn’t easy to miss a season, especially a successful one. The Wolves won the Narrows League Bridge Division with an 11-3 record and finished 16-7 overall last season.

“Once the season got going, it was pretty hard,” Johnson said. “I still went to the games and watched them play and wanted to be out there.

“If stuff wasn’t going on, I definitely would’ve played.”

He said Callaghan approached him about tryouts again after the season. Johnson gave a simple “yeah” to the comeback offer.

“I told him he was welcome back anytime,” Callaghan said. “The whole odyssey begins right after spring break and he’s been right there. I’m really glad he came back.”

With five seniors graduated from last season’s team, it didn’t take long for Johnson to integrate. The 6-foot-6 senior scored a team-high 15 points to lead the Wolves to a 70-46 win in their Nov. 27 season-opener at Tyee.

“It wasn’t really that hard,” he said, adding that his teammates embraced him upon his return. “I already knew the offense and knew all the guys because we’re all young.”

And on a team that has struggled with consistency — South had a 4-4 record after Friday’s 67-59 loss against Skyline — Johnson’s production rarely changes.

“Up to this point, I think he’s averaged a double-double (at least 10 points and 10 rebounds) for us, so he’s been huge,” Callaghan said.

As are the expectations around post players at South. Four years ago, the presence of Adam Bennett and Jake Beitinger inside helped the Wolves to a second-place finish in the Class 4A state tournament. It was their best performance since winning the championship in 1950, and Johnson said it’s a tough precedent to follow.

“It’s hard because they were so dominant,” he said. “It’s difficult to fill those shoes because I’m not as vocal and upbeat as they are. I’m more of a quiet leader.”

That doesn’t seem to bother Callaghan.

“He has kind of a calming effect on the rest of the guys around him,” he said. “He doesn’t really get rattled.”

Perhaps that’s because Johnson knows about challenges. In the spring, he serves as the Wolves’ goalkeeper for the soccer team.

With a 6-8 wingspan providing “a huge advantage,” he may be the tallest goalkeeper the state.

But saving goals is more of a way to pass time than a pastime for him. He hopes to play college basketball and is “looking locally, especially at community colleges.” Johnson, who wants to become an architect, said he’s received information from Pierce College, but wants to concentrate on the season before he looks forward.

That means further collaboration with his teammates and utilizing the opportunities that come when Collin Monagle is double-teamed in the post.

“I can step out and hit a shot every once in awhile,” Johnson said. “That’s my game — that’s what I like to do.”

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