Before you conjure images of a 5-foot-4 preteen prodigy leaping sky-high, some clarification: Johnson only started playing basketball as a sophomore. Later that season, he dunked for the first time.
Now, two years later, he’s a dunk contest champion. Johnson beat out nine competitors to win the M&T Bank Slam Dunk contest at the 35-team Governor’s Challenge in Salisbury, Maryland last weekend.
“I started off the whole dunk contest nervous,” Johnson said. “I saw a lot of taller guys than me. I’m thinking I’m the underdog.”
At 6-2 or 6-3, depending on which roster you view, Johnson doesn’t boast the build of a standout dunker. Early on, Johnson struggled with consistency, almost always reaching the rim but often missing, needing a millisecond more of hang time to finish as consistently as he elevated.
So in the offseason he hit the gym and ran hills, working to build up his calf muscles and increase his vertical leap. In that added strength, Johnson found greater dunking consistency, soon challenging 6-foot-7 classmate Clint Robinson to after-practice dunk contests.
“We always try to see who could make the better dunk…and I would always end up winning,” Johnson said. “That’s just how it happened.”
Still, the wing was surprised last week when Flowers Coach Mark Edwards texted him asking if he’d like to take part in the dunk contest. Edwards and Johnson talked through the dunks he had at his disposal to plan for the contest.
After a strong showing in the first round, Johnson advanced to the finals, where he attempted to toss the ball to himself, pick it up off the bounce, and dunk in one motion. His first toss went awry, and as the finalists were given only a short time in which to complete their dunks. That meant he was suddenly under pressure to finish an attempt and do so quickly.
“The first time I threw the ball, I was nervous,” Johnson said. “But I just shook it off. I had a lot of support from my teammates and my coaching staff, so I just went in the air and dunked the ball.”
Johnson successfully finished two dunks, earning a perfect score in the final round to win a contest he said he initially thought he had no chance of winning.
“It was just really shocking [to win],” Johnson said. “When I saw what the other person did, if he had made it, he would’ve won. It was a very good dunk he attempted.”
Johnson’s teammate Devin Shuler finished second in the Governor’s Challenge three-point contest, and the Jaguars won both of their games in the holiday tournament.
Me and coach. pic.twitter.com/VGyyVPjed1
— Patrick Johnson (@BallinOut_Pat) December 28, 2013
Jaguar squad showing support to Patrick, the Slam Dunk King! pic.twitter.com/mTU96quIbS
— Jaguars Hoops (@CHFlowersHS) December 28, 2013