Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Freshman men's basketball player Nino Johnson adjusts to college game

Monday, November 7, 2011
ESPN ranked Nino Johnson as the 40th best power forward in the nation. -Photo by Travis Wibbenmeyer

Nino Johnson, a freshman forward for the Southeast Missouri State men's basketball, said that he had been lazy during the team's intrasquad scrimmage on Oct. 22.

His laziness spurred assistant coach Jamie Rosser to call him out during a timeout during the scrimmage. In plain sight of fans and media, Rosser demonstrated to Johnson how to box out, which is a basketball technique used by players to help their team grab a rebound.

Johnson said he was motivated by the instruction and proceeded to dominate the sequence of plays after the timeout.

He caught an alley-oop pass from guard Marland Smith which he threw down with two hands and then denied what appeared would be an easy layup on defense by providing timely help defense and almost effortlessly blocking the shot. His dominant stretch culminated with an impressive two-handed putback dunk.

"He didn't run this full speed at a level where he was better than everybody else," Southeast coach Dickey Nutt said.

Johnson, a Memphis, Tenn native, was ranked by ESPN as the 40th best high school power forward in the nation in 2010.

He played for White Station High School for two years and helped them to a runner-up finish in Tennessee Class AAA in 2010.

He went to Melrose High School his first two years of high school where he played with fellow Southeast freshman Telvin Wilkerson. Wilkerson's team at Melrose beat Johnson's in 2010's state championship game.

"It was always a big battle, it's a huge rivalry," Wilkerson said. He also said with a wry smile that it was more fun to play against Johnson than with him, but friends decided to go to the same college.

Johnson received scholarship offers from bigger schools such as Auburn, Cincinnati, DePaul, Georgia Tech and Mississippi, but he decided try to help turn around the beleaguered Southeast program, which hasn't had a winning record since the 2000-01 season.

"I wanted to come right in and play," Johnson said. "I thought 'Why go to those schools when I can have my own team?' We can start a good trend here at SEMO."

Johnson said that he has learned to not be lazy since playing college basketball and will need to abide by that to turn around Southeast's program.

"He is so talented," Dickey Nutt said. "He has no idea how good he can be."