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Friday, August 13, 2010
Updated: June 21, 7:54 PM ET
Nick, Joey Johnson: Like father, like son

By Ronnie Flores
ESPNHS

In conjunction with the Boost Mobile Elite 24 on Aug. 28, ESPNHS is profiling California's 24 greatest streetball players. Some went on to become NBA stars, some were high school stars and pro flameouts, while others were beset by unlucky breaks or tragedy. The countdown continues with No. 16 on our list, 1985 Banning (Wilmington, Calif.) graduate "Jumpin" Joey Johnson.

When Slam Magazine released its 50 greatest dunkers of all-time in late 2001, they got it right -- for the most part. Take your pick at the top: Vince Carter (No. 1), Michael Jordan (No. 2), Dominique Wilkins (No. 3) and Julius "Doctor J" Erving (No. 4).

Playground legends of Rucker Park, the original home of the Boost Mobile Elite 24, were represented at No. 5 (Jackie Jackson) and No. 19 (Earl Manigault).

The Elite 24 has now found a home in Venice Beach, Calif., and the Golden State had solid representation on the list: playground legend Harold Miner at No. 25, Darnell "Dr. Dunk" Hillman at No. 22 and J.R. Rider at No. 14 plus three others in the back 25.

But all of those Cali dunkers take a backseat to "Jumpin" Joey Johnson (video), father of Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) standout Nick Johnson.

"I think I might have saw that Slam Magazine," said Nick, nine years old when it came out. "I do have an article saved about the Leaping Legends of Basketball. It mentioned Wilt Chamberlain, Dr. J., Jordan, David Thompson and my dad."

Joey Johnson should have cracked the top dozen on Slam's list.

Armed with a reported 52-inch vertical jump, Johnson, younger brother of NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson, once held the world record for dunking on the highest basket at 11-foot-7. His most famous leap was at a saloon in Moscow, Idaho. He jumped from a standstill position and bent a nail mounted on the wall at 11-foot-4 in honor of former university of Idaho star Gus Johnson.

"I've never seen anyone who could leap like Joey, and I mean anyone," said former coach Reggie Morris Sr., whose Manual Arts (Los Angeles, Calif.) team played Johnson.

Added former Lynwood (Lynwood, Calif.) coach Bill Lee: "I thought for someone to jump like that didn't make sense for the normal mechanics of the human body. Like he was a danger or could hurt himself jumping that high."

In 1987, "Jumpin" Joey helped College of Southern Idaho win the NJCAA national title. Two years earlier, Johnson was an all-L.A. City pick at Banning (Wilmington, Calif.). Even though Johnson averaged 16 ppg, it was Arizona-bound guard Eric Cooper that was Banning's most highly regarded player.

Johnson's Division I and pro career never soared to the heights basketball fans would expect for a player with his unique ability.

"At 16, it's hard to push people back off you because they love that you can dunk," Joey said. "It's not like it is now with parents so involved, you just went to the playground or gym to play.

"I kind of developed slowly. It took me a while to get it. I had an opportunity to do a lot of things. I had a great time. My fun now is watching Nick do it. Now I got a sense of what people felt watching me by watching Nick jump."

It's a good point -- Nick can jump, too.

"I want to be in the dunk contest," said Nick, referencing the Under Armour High School Slam Dunk Contest (Aug. 27, 8 p.m. EDT, ESPNU). "We need to get this match up with Deuce Bello going. A lot of people think he's the best dunker in the country, so I think we should settle it."

Dunking aside, Joey is ecstatic at Nick's play and maturity. Grueling workouts with Mark Wade, starting point guard on UNLV's NCAA Final Four team in 1987, helped Nick average 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last season for Findlay Prep, No. 3 in the final POWERADE FAB 50. The Pilots' standout is not all hops, either. He also patterns his game after his late uncle.

"I feel Nick is one of the best defenders his age," said Joey, a native of San Pedro, Calif.

Adds Nick: "[My dad] wants me to be the most complete player I can, because of how he struggled to get to the NBA."

Win or lose the dunk contest, Nick's ability commands respect. But conservations don't run too deep before the standout Findlay Prep two-guard is reminded that he's related to, hands down, one of the greatest skywalkers to ever live.

"I'm actually surprised that people know about my jumping ability," said Nick, who attended Highland (Gilbert, Ariz.) before joining the Pilots' program. "Coaches from all over know about his jumping ability. It's humbling when they tell me I'm good, but I can't jump like him.

"I've been told that from everyone that has ever seen him play."