EAST LANSING, Mich. – Sophomore Brandon Johns towers while walking through the halls of East Lansing High School. He’s only 16, but his basketball ability and 6-foot-8 stature makes him stand out everywhere he goes.
Johns started his freshman season with Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo sitting behind the bench and ended it with a call from Avery Johnson offering him a scholarship to Alabama.
“It was crazy,” Johns said. “I didn’t know what to say really. It was nice though.”
East Lansing high school basketball coach Steve Finamore has seen few athletes like Johns in his 30-year career.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever coached, and he could easily become one of the top-10 high school players I’ve ever seen,” Finamore said. “He’s so multi-dimensional. He can shoot three pointers and score inside.”
Johns is a small forward, who averaged 19.7 points and 10 rebounds per game last season and is ESPN’s top-ranked recruit in Michigan for the class of 2018.
Finamore said Johns’ best qualities have nothing to do with basketball.
“He is one of the humblest teenagers I’ve ever met, and he was like that coming in, Finamore said. “Just the other day, I watched him hold the door for seven kids walking into school.”
Johns has always stood out in one way or another.
“When I was in elementary school I thought I was in class with younger kids,” Johns said, talking about his height. “Now I have a hard time fitting in some of my friends’ cars.”
He started playing basketball when he was 7, on an AAU team. His interest came from watching VHS tapes of his parents’ playing in college.
“It was something I was always interested in trying, they never forced it on me,” Johns said. “They come to as many games as they can, and they give me pep talks before games. It’s nice to have that, because a lot of players don’t.”
Johns plays basketball year-round, going from AAU to East Lansing. He says the competition level differs between AAU and school, but being a part of East Lansing’s team has taught him some valuable lessons.
“Right before freshman season, started I really had to revaluate and look at everything again,” Johns said. “Most athletes have points where they get overwhelmed. I had to stop and remind myself how far I’ve come. High school has really taught me how to adjust my mental game.”
Finamore said he coaches all his athletes the same, regardless of skill level.
“You always want to work on the mental aspect of it, they’re teenagers- their mental state is going to shift often,” Finamore said. “You just want to stay as positive as you can. You always want to tell them what you can about what the future looks like. You have to push them daily to stay hungry. Brandon really accepts coaching, especially from the assistant coaches that get on him too. So he hears it from four different coaches on a daily basis.”
Johns tends to be his own worst critic - all the coaching helps keep his mental game in check.
“I tend to shut myself down if I start playing bad,” Johns said. “So having multiple people pushing and encouraging me helps me focus on the task at hand.”
Johns says students that don’t know him do treat him differently, but he does his best to make sure everyone around him knows he is just a regular guy.
“I try not to gloat on myself, I act like my normal self around everyone and talk to them like I don’t even play basketball. Johns said. “I talk about everything besides basketball. It doesn’t always have to be about basketball for me because people have other things they are interested in. Even though I don’t have a lot of time I do like to hangout with my friends, watch movies, and go bowling, like everyone else.”
According to Finamore, nothing fazes Johns.
“He can play in an empty gym or a gym full of people,” Finamore said. “He’s the exact same person. He’s a great teammate and a great kid.”