Khalil Johnson has been on the move for most of his life.
He calls Long Island, New York, home, but he had many. His slew of moves began in the second grade when he moved from Long Island to Lynchburg, Virginia. After a year, he moved back to Long Island. In the seventh grade, he moved to Hackensack, New Jersey for a year. Then, another move brought him to Richmond, Virginia. The next stop was a prep school in Connecticut before moving to Missouri and attending Three Rivers College. That’s over 4,000 miles for anyone who was wondering.
His mother, Summer Holloway, wanted to give Johnson and his sister a secure life, so she worked various jobs to provide for them. At the same time, she was battling lupus, so she wasn’t able to maintain her jobs the way she intended. The family did a lot of moving as a result.
“My mother wanted us to live the life she didn’t get a chance to have,” Johnson said. “That was her unselfish goal.”
Throughout every move, the constant Johnson had was basketball. His dad, Rodney Johnson, played Division I basketball at the University of New Hampshire. His uncle, Omar Johnson, played at Wagner College and his cousin, Marcus Damas, played at Towson University.
His family was always involved in basketball, so he started playing as soon as he could walk.
“(Rodney) had his own basketball program. He got a lot of kids to play Division I, pros, everything, so I was always around the game,” Khalil said. “I fell in love with it on my own, you know, my dad didn’t even force me. Just being around it all the time, it was hard not to fall in love with it.”
After so many moves, basketball became Khalil’s way of making friends. He took his basketball everywhere with him.
“I can go to the park with my basketball and make new friends in a new city just because I had a basketball in my hand and I played pick-up with these guys,” Khalil said. “It helped me adapt to every situation because basketball was just there for me. … It’s really been a focal point of my whole life.”
Basketball was the reason behind Khalil’s move to Three Rivers, the one he said was the hardest because it took him so far away from his family.
He didn’t see himself going to an NJCAA school initially. His dad played DI, so he intended to take that route as soon as possible. Instead, he found himself having to adapt in another state again, this time without his family, just his basketball.
Khalil redshirted his first year at Three Rivers for personal reasons. In his second season, he averaged 4.3 points in a little under 21 minutes per game. Khalil’s season-high was 16 points in a Jan. 5 win over Mineral Area College.
Once the Three Rivers’ season ended, Khalil was trying to get back to being the player he knew he could be.
He knew the season he produced wasn’t his best, so he started hitting the gym three times a day on most days to get comfortable again.
Khalil’s role with the Raiders had him primarily playing as a spot-up shooter until late in the season. It was an unfamiliar role for him, as he was primarily a ball handler and facilitator in high school.
“My roles changed a lot throughout the season, so it was kind of like I never hit a point where I was comfortable the whole way through, honestly,” Khalil said. “There were times where I had to adjust to being a corner, spot-up shooter, which I’ve never done in my life. I’m used to having the ball in my hands.”
Khalil said the change in roles helped his ability to adapt to every situation going forward.
In May, he decided to join the All-American JUCO Showcase in Atlanta. They didn’t keep stats at the showcase, but Johnson’s performance was good enough to turn some heads. Several DI scouts spoke with him, and he landed a scholarship to play Division I basketball with the University of Denver in the Summit League, adding one more move to his list.
‘I really just felt like I was comfortable on the court, even before going into the showcase, so it’s kind of like no pressure. No pressure, just playing basketball and having fun,” Johnson said. “I felt like I’ve always had the talent to play with anybody, so it’s just a matter of me being confident in my abilities. My confidence was fine, so it was no pressure.”
Khalil graduated from Three Rivers with an associate’s degree in biology. He had a 3.4 GPA in the spring semester, the same as what he graduated high school with to go along with a 1240 SAT score. He plans to continue pursuing biology as his major and to keep setting an example for his teammates on how to approach his work in the classroom.
“He did what he had to do and was kind of a quiet leader behind the scenes,” Three Rivers coach Gene Bess said. “You knew he was going to do well academically and go to class, so you were confident he was going to be a leader in the right direction. He just did what he had to do to help the team.”
With Denver coming off an 8-22 season, he hopes he can help a young group go through a turnaround and have fun playing a game he’s always loved in the process.
“Just trying to get that youthful feeling back,” Khalil said. “As you get older, the adult world, it can take its toll on you, but it’s always trying to find that joy, just your reason why again.”
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic