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home : sports : sports July 23, 2016

5/6/2013 11:06:00 AM
Oblong's Johnson to play basketball at EIU
Sports Editor

Some athletes have natural ability they use to get them where they want to go.

Others use hard work to achieve their goals.

Anthony Johnson is one of those rare breeds that has utilized both.

The talented Oblong High School senior put in a lot of time in an attempt to become a Division I basketball player. All his efforts paid off earlier this week, when he signed a letter-of-intent to continue his career at Eastern Illinois University.

"This is a dream come true," Johnson said. "All my hard work is starting to pay off and it feels really good."

"We are thrilled that Anthony is coming to EIU," EIU head coach Jay Spoonhour said. "There is little question about Anthony's toughness and willingness to work. The past two seasons at Oblong High School were their most successful in about 60 years. Anthony, his teammates and his coaches should be very proud of what they have accomplished. We couldn't be happier that he has chosen to be a Panther."

Getting to the Division I level was not an easy one, as Johnson did not garner a lot of interest from D-I teams until his senior season. However, Johnson believes Eastern Illinois is the right place for him.

"They were at a lot of my games this year," Johnson said. "It feels good to be wanted, plus it is close to home, which is a big deal because I want my family to be able to come watch me play. I think I fit their system well and will do good things if I keep working hard."

In addition to EIU, Johnson also considered Indiana State, Evansville and Division II Southern Indiana, while also drawing interest from Vincennes University and Lincoln Trail College, but getting a full Division I scholarship was too good for Johnson to pass up.

"It was good to go to all those other schools, but what really stood out to me was Eastern is getting new facilities and trying to work their way up," Johnson said. "I want to be a part of that. I want to start at the bottom and work my way to the top."

"He decided as a young kid he wanted to be a Division I player and through hard work he has done it," OHS head coach Brent Harper said. "He is very deserving and I am so proud of him. Not too many kids have that dedication and motivation to go along with the talent level."

Johnson has also made some history in the process, as he is the first Oblong basketball player to earn a Division I scholarship.

"It means a lot to me to be the first one," Johnson said. "Hopefully it shows the younger kids that if you work hard enough, you can do it."

"It has been great for me to be his coach and watch him develop," Harper said. "He did everything he needed to do to get better, from playing AAU ball to coming in and putting up 500 shots. Hopefully the younger kids can pull something from that and use it as motivation."

Just about the entire record book at OHS belongs to Johnson, as he is the school's career and single-season scoring leader, while also holding the single-game scoring record. He scored 1,990 points in his four years at OHS and would have eclipsed the 2,000-point plateau if not for a hip injury that sidelined him for three games this past season. During his senior season, Johnson averaged 24.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.6 steals per game for the Panthers, while helping them to their second straight regional championship and consecutive sectional championship game appearances. He also has several all-state and all-conference accolades to his credit.

"Those records he put up will be in the case a long time, because those kids don't come around often," Harper said.

His on-court attributes are well-documented, but that wasn't the only thing that grabbed coach Spoonhour's attention.

"The first time I saw him, it was noticeable how good of a teammate he was and that's important," Spoonhour said. "When you watch him, his athleticism comes at you right away. He is a big, strong kid, but we are not only watching for physical attributes. We also look at how they talk to their teammates, coaches and even their parents. Anthony is an exemplary kid and those are the guys we want. We want guys that appreciate that EIU is a good place and that believe we can have a good basketball program here."

On the court, Johnson has already pinpointed several goals he wants to achieve at EIU - both for the team and individually.

"Team goals are to make the NCAA Tournament and win the Ohio Valley Conference," Johnson said. "For me personally, I want to be an impact player. Whenever they call on me, whether it is off the bench or as a starter, I want to come in and produce."

Both his current and future coach believe he will be a significant contributor for the Panthers.

"Anthony is a very athletic and talented kid that has put in the time to raise his skill level," Harper said. "There aren't too many kids that have his talent and work ethic. I have no doubt he can step in and be an impact player his freshman year."

"I think he can jump right in and help," Spoonhour said. "He's got the physical size to play at this level and I believe he has the skills to play point guard. I'm counting on him coming in and doing some damage right away."

Johnson is excited about the opportunity to play at EIU and hopes he will be part of a resurgence of the Panthers' program.

"It feels good to know the coaches trust in how hard I work to get better and produce at the next level," Johnson said. "I also trust the coaches will continue to bring in the recruits to get it done. If we work hard, we can be right up there with the Murray States and the Belmonts."

Spoonhour is also hopeful Johnson is a key piece to getting EIU back to prominence.

"We had a respectable year last year, but now it is time to move on and get guys to make EIU a great place," Spoonhour said. "Having Anthony here for four years will be a great thing for us, for Oblong and the other surrounding communities. I think he's going to do well."

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