Williamsport local adjusts to life in professionals

By LUCAS SEMB

For The Express

When asked about who played an instrumental role in the development of his basketball career, Alize Johnson mentioned his junior college coach at Frank Phillips Community College, Chris Hackett.

For Johnson, he helped him adjust to not only college, but helped him become more physical on the court.

“The biggest thing was just helping me adjust to college,” says Johnson. “I was just scrawny and tall, but Coach Hackett recognized my potential and pushed me every single day. He was hard on me, but he got me to be a lot more physical.”

That physicality will prove to be a much-needed asset for Johnson as his NBA career further develops.

Currently, Johnson is in the NBA’s G-League playing for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. He’s appeared in three Pacers games this year, averaging roughly three minutes per game. With the Mad Ants, Johnson didn’t waste time making an impact, scoring 27 points and 20 rebounds against the Maine Red Claws last week.

The rookie says that the biggest difference from college ball to the NBA is strength and Johnson said that once he got hit a few times, he knew how much strength he was truly going to have to use at this level.

“The NBA is just a different kind of physicality,” says Johnson.

Nonetheless, like any challenge the new Indiana Pacer has looked in the eyes, he is ready to tackle it. He understands that everybody in the NBA is there for a reason. The pace is faster and the competition is stiffer, but at the end of the day, it’s just a game that he loves to play.

“I’m just excited to be able to compete with elite talent every single night,” Johnson said.

Just competing isn’t where Johnson draws the line for his rookie season though. He believes that he can make an immediate impact for the team.

“I just want to work hard and learn from the veterans. Being a good teammate both on and off the court is going to be important for me,” says Johnson.

Johnson’s teammate, veteran Thaddeus Young says that he has been trying to show Johnson how to be successful in this league. Young has played over 800 games at the power-forward position, making his expertise valuable for a rookie like Johnson. Young says that Johnson brings high energy to the court every time he steps onto it, and he’s willing to listen to the people trying to help him take the next step.

“I try to teach him little tricks and trades that have kept me in the league for so long,” says Young. “He is a bit of a kid sometimes, but he listens. He is all business on the court. He’s a real competitor.”

Young wasn’t the only Pacer who had good things to say about Johnson. Superstar teammate Victor Oladipo, who is an NBA all-star, also raved about Johnson’s motor and hustle. Oladipo said it’s all the more impressive because seeing such a hard-worker is unique in kids today. Oladipo says Johnson’s best trait thus far is his “innate nose for the ball.”

“He’s an amazing rebounder. His skillset is a lot higher than many would think,” says Oladipo. “He gets loose balls, offensive rebounds, and he’s very good at it. If he continues to keep working hard, the sky is the limit for him.”

For now, Johnson is just taking it all in. Despite the high praise from notable teammates, he is taking it day-by-day, trying to be a better person and a better basketball player. He knows his family is still looking up to him and he wants to continue to show that anything is possible. Luckily, Indianapolis might be just the right spot for that.

“The fans here are loving, caring people,” Johnson said. “I’m doing what I can for them, getting after it in practice and cheering on my teammates. When my number is called, I’ll be ready to go.”

Johnson’s life has been a classic success story of hard work, determination and perseverance. However, the success did not come without adversity.

Raised by a single mother, being the eldest of six siblings, working a job and going to school gave Johnson a heavy workload. But if you ask the NBA rookie, he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

To Johnson, there is much more to life than basketball.

“I didn’t want my siblings to see anything negative in my life that would let them think that’s an OK path to follow,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to hold myself accountable and set a good example.”

Before basketball, comes family for Johnson. He relishes being a role model for his brothers and sisters. Growing up under difficult circumstances, he wanted to show his siblings the ropes to creating a better life for themselves. The young power-forward credits his faith in God for bringing him to this point in his life. He also believes his family is now in the best position they’ve ever been in and he’s excited to see what the future holds.

Johnson grinded his way from Frank Phillips Community College to Division I Missouri State University, and earlier this year was selected by the Indiana Pacers with the 50th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

However, Johnson hasn’t allowed his self-made success to alter his values. He continues to be a likeable guy with many thanks to give. The Pacers’ big man wants to stress that no matter where the NBA takes him, he’ll never forget where he came from and who helped him get there.

“(In Williamsport) I went to the local parks and played a lot of street ball,” Johnson said. “I was able to take that street knowledge of the game and use that to help me transition into organized ball in high school.”

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