Sorry for the lull in posting. There’s been a lot that’s happened over the last month. The new dog has taken up an awful lot of time, combined with a heavy workload for my paying job, along with the disappointment of not getting a job at Purdue I really honestly thought I’d landed, it’s just been a lot to take in while still writing about sports for free. Oh, and my father-in-law had a heart attack. That certainly didn’t help, either.
But, we’re back. And in the meantime, the Pacers have been absolutely rolling, beating people by thirty and forty points. Including a humiliation of the Knicks, who at the time were sitting in second in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers have since taken that spot over.
I mentioned it here earlier, but the Pacers also made their big deadline deal. Except, it wasn’t a deal, per se. Danny Granger played his first game this season on Saturday. He knocked down his first shot, but that was about it. Still, you could a lot worse your first trip out after that long of a layoff. He’s going to be just fine, and I’m betting he’ll be just the scoring boost analysts have been saying the Pacers need all year.
In a way, it’s unfortunate we haven’t heard more out of these analysts. That these Pacers are still under the radar is unfortunate. They’re better than that, and I do think that ESPN has largely ignored this team in favor of the more “glamourous” teams has hurt attendance. Because they had a chance to really go into the tank without Granger. But they didn’t. There’s a lot of fight on this team (not to mention talent) that will give teams trouble come playoff time.
One of the reasons this team didn’t fold up after the injury to Granger had to do with finding big time help in unlikely places. One of those players is Lance Stephenson. He has been hailed as a phenom almost out of the womb, and, honestly, I don’t really remember him at Cincinnati at all. He was a non-entity on the Pacers just last year, and I think the whole state outside of Larry Bird had decided he was another puffed up bust. But he sure had us fooled.
Another even unlikelier bright spot has been Orlando Johnson. I know I saw him in the tournament with UCSB, mostly because I really try to watch at least a piece of every game, and I’m sure I turned them on. But, I’ll be damned if I can really remember that UCSB team, and by extension, I have no memory of Johnson. That led me to decide to find out a little more about OJ.*
*What, can’t we call anybody that now?
Here’s what I’ve turned up on Johnson. He started off his college career at Loyola Marymount, of Kimble-Gathers* fame, where he averaged twelve points and almost five rebounds as a freshman. Not too shabby, especially when you consider that led the team in both categories.** While those aren’t bad numbers for a freshman, if that’s your statistical leader, it doesn’t say much about your team. I’m sure that had a lot to with LMU making a coaching change after Johnson’s freshman year, which also led to Johnson transferring out.
*If you can’t be bothered to click on the link and don’t know what I’m talking about, let me give you a brief summary that might whet your appetite. Hank Gathers, who just might have been the best player in the nation at the time, died on the court.
Johnson had to sit out the next year, per NCAA rules,* but it sure didn’t seem to slow him down. He suited up for the Gauchos and put up 18 points a game and almost six rebounds. He was named the Big West player of the year, as UCSB won their conference tournament and made their first NCAA appearance since 2002 and their fourth appearance all-time. Sure, they were beaten fairly soundly by Ohio St., but Johnson did manage to hang 20 on the Buckeyes.
*I’m not a fan of that rule, but that’s a story for another day.
The next year was more of the same. His points per game rose to 21, and he again led UCSB to a conference title and the privilege of being beating even more soundly by Florida. But, again, you can’t fault Johnson, has he put up 21 on the Gators. Johnson initially decided he was ready for the NBA after that, and I don’t think I can fault him for that, but he did eventually decide to stay at UCSB for his senior year. You can argue that was a misstep,* as the team went 18-10 and didn’t win any titles. I’m sure it’s not the way he wanted to go out, but he did leave as the school’s all-time leading scorer. UCSB might not be a basketball juggernaut, but if you leave any college program as the all-time leading scorer, you did something right.
*I’m not sure Johnson would, and I’m not sure I would. But, I could make that argument if I had to.
So, yeah, all in all, Johnson had a much better college pedigree than I realized before checking up on him. I certainly understand better now why the Pacers traded to get his rights from the Kings in the last draft for a little bit of cash. After spending four games in Fort Wayne in the D-League,* the Pacers came a-calling, mostly because of DJ Augustine’s initially inability to look anything like a point guard to start the season. Johnson seized his moments, though. I don’t think there’s any thought of him going back to Fort Wayne now, and I’m sure he’s going to find his way into the line up even with Granger back now and again.
*Where Johnson averaged 23 points a game.
And you know what? As impressive as all of this is, I’m sure basketball has always seemed much easier than his home life. You see, Orlando Johnson as seen pain for almost his entire life. Before he can even remember. His mother was murdered when he was just a year old. He was taken in by his grandmother, who died when he was 11. Oh, and five years before that, when Orlando was just 6? He was living with his grandmother and ten other relatives. The house caught fire and killed four of those “other relatives.” He was truly and utterly blessed to have a couple brothers who were in their 20s when Johnson’s grandma died. His brothers took him in and made sure he didn’t bounce around the memory hole that is foster care.
If you can’t root for the underdog story of a player coming from a small school and the D-League, then you should certainly be able to appreciate somebody beating the odds like that, especially when he had no control over those circumstances, unlike a lot of trouble athletes get themselves into. And if you still can’t warm your heart to that, it must be because it is dead.