The University of Miami’s 79-78 victory over North Carolina State Saturday held special meaning for senior center Reggie Johnson, and not just because he scored the deciding basket on a tip-in with less than a second left in the game.
Johnson is a North Carolina native from Winston-Salem who pretty much got short shrift from the North Carolina schools when he came out of high school.
“To go in and get a win at N.C. State means more than winning at home against those teams,” Johnson said Sunday. “You’ve got 20,000 cheering against you. Sometimes they say, ‘Why didn’t you come here?’ I heard that a lot. So it means a lot to me.”
Johnson had a good reason not to wind up at one of the Tobacco Road schools.
Nobody really was that interested in a 6-10 center who weighed over 320 pounds and barely could get off the floor, which was the case with him coming out of high school.
Johnson, who has trimmed probably in the neighborhood of 40 pounds from his 6-10 frame since he arrived in Coral Gables, said his hometown school Wake Forest was going to recruit him, but then coach Skip Prosser died in the summer of 2007 and the Demon Deacons didn’t follow up.
“North Carolina was going to offer me, but basically they flat out told me that if Tyler Zeller doesn’t commit to us, then we’re going to take you,” Johnson said. “I thought, ‘Wow. That was real blunt.’ That’s pretty much it.”
Johnson sat out his first year at Miami as a redshirt but appeared in 32 games in the 2009-10 season, starting six. He became a full-time starter as a sophomore the next year, but played in only 22 games his junior year while recovering from an off-season knee injury.
He started this season healthy, but the injury bug bit him again when he broke his thumb in practice the day before the Hurricanes played host Hawaii in the Diamond Head Classic in late December.
The early prognosis was he would miss six-to-eight weeks, but he was back in four after missing eight games. He made his first appearance since Dec. 18 in the win over Duke, playing 16 minutes and scoring two points on free throws.
His most productive game since his return was against N.C. State, when he scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and he had 10 rebounds in Miami’s win at Virginia in the previous game.
The two wins extended the Hurricanes overall winning streak to nine games and gave them an 8-0 record and first place by two games over Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
But it isn’t time for the Hurricanes to celebrate.
"We still have 10 conference games remaining so we're not even through the halfway mark of the conference race,” coach Jim Larranaga said as the Hurricanes began preparations for Tuesday night’s home game against Boston College. “It’s still way too early to tell what it’s going to be like at the end of February and the first of March.”