Dorian Johnson vaults Herndon into Virginia state title contention

Dorian Johnson had just scored 22 points to lead Herndon to a Jan. 14 win against Chantilly, but when the senior swingman walked into Hornets Coach Gary Hall’s office the next day, he wasn’t satisfied.

“He wasn’t happy with our performance, so he came and asked me what he could do to be a better leader,” Hall recalled. “That really struck me because a lot of times, when you talk about leadership, it means a kid is captain of the team and shakes the referees’ hand before a game. But even though he isn’t always the most vocal person, Dorian accepts that responsibility as a leader.”

Three nights later in a game against Westfield, Johnson endured constant double teams. Despite being held to a season-low seven points, he recorded 10 rebounds and nine assists.

The balanced performance continued a strong senior campaign for Johnson, perhaps the area’s most underrated star on one of the area’s hottest teams in No. 17 Herndon, winners of eight in a row.

The 6-foot-4 senior lefty has blossomed in his fourth year of varsity play and shouldered more of the load following the graduation of Northern Region Player of the Year Will Ferguson. Try to take away his effective stroke from the outside and Johnson can attack off the dribble with his speed and strength. Send multiple defenders his way and the swingman can make his impact felt on the boards or with his unselfish play.

“I think my versatility helps me out a lot,” Johnson said. “I can step out and hit the three, but at the same time, I like taking it to the basket and I can work on the inside. I try to let the game come to me but Coach tells me to also stay aggressive.”

So was the case in a Dec. 20 win against rival South Lakes. Strapped with foul trouble in the second half, Johnson patiently waited his turn before subtly exploding for 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter.

And though he stands as the Hornets’ best scorer, Johnson learned from his time playing alongside Ferguson how to be efficient while allowing his other teammates to shine. Three other Hornets (Kent Auslander, Delontae Wingfield and DeAndre Thomas) average more than 10 points per game and in Saturday’s 99-86 win against a tough Lake Braddock team, Johnson’s 23 points were complemented by 23 from Thomas, 20 from Wingfield and 13 from Auslander.

“We’re really deep and everybody can score, so while I’ve worked to be more of a leader this year, it takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders knowing the guys I have around me,” Johnson said. “That win was big for us, but honestly, we could’ve played a lot better.”

Johnson’s constant hunger for success and excellence partly stems from his freshman year experience. As a member of the varsity, he actually played his first game against his current coach, who was still at the helm for Middleburg Academy at the time. Johnson scored seven points and checked Middleburg star Mo Alie, who now plays at VCU.

“Dorian was probably 6-2 and about 150 pounds and he battled and didn’t back down that night,” Hall said. “A lot of kids have skills but don’t have the real ingredients and intangibles to be very good players, but you could see that in Dorian in the way he competed.”

Johnson was the fourth-leading scorer that year at 6.6 points per game but he was forced to miss Herndon’s playoff run to the Concorde District title and Northern Region semifinals due to a knee injury.

“It was definitely hard watching us win and not being able to play,” Johnson said, “but it motivates me now to push us to go even farther this year.”

Since cutting their teeth against tough competition at the Gonzaga DC Classic to start the season, the Hornets have run through area play, defeating their last seven opponents by an average of 20.4 points. Coincidentally, that’s the same number of points Johnson is averaging this season after scoring 20-plus points in seven of Herndon’s last eight games.

What’s more, the Hornets stand to gain a boost in the very near future with the recent enrollment of Life Academy (N.J.) senior transfer and Lehigh commit Brandon Alston. Hall said the 6-5 swingman is not yet officially on the team and still has some paperwork pending along with a physical, but Alston ideally could begin practicing later this week.

As for Johnson, he doesn’t hold any college offers yet but is receiving strong interest from Division 2 and 3 schools like Shepherd, Barton, Chowan, Bridgewater and Shenandoah. And as Johnson’s play continues to elevate the Hornets into the upper echelon of the Virginia basketball scene this season, he’s likely to see a similar spike in his recruitment.

“He’s an unassuming player who flies under the radar but if you look at the numbers, he does everything,” Hall said. “He’ll likely finish in the top three in scoring in school history, maybe the top five in rebounding, he leads our team in charges, rebounds and assists. Dorian’s set himself up for success with his performance in the classroom and on the court, and the longer we play and more games we win, the more attention he’ll get.”

Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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