Ricky Johnson Jr., Bethune-Cookman’s newest basketball signee, is following a path from Akron, Ohio, to Florida fashioned by his mentor — LeBron James.
Johnson, a 5-foot-10 point guard, helped James’ alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, to state championships in 2009 and 2011.
“We’re excited about him,” B-CU coach Cliff Reed said of Johnson. “He’s a tenacious kid, a smart kid, an extremely hard worker and a proven winner.”
Reed said Johnson will have a year to develop behind senior-to-be C.J. Reed, the 2010-11 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
“Obviously, we’ll have to replace C.J. in another year,” Reed said of his son. “(Johnson) will be able to learn from C.J. We don’t expect him to start (next season), but we expect him to contribute right away.”
In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Johnson said he has known James for most of his life.
“When I was younger, he redid a community center (in Akron) that I always played at. A lot of kids in the area got to know him then,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s relationship with the former Cleveland Cavaliers and now Miami Heat star took off after Johnson enrolled at St. Vincent-St. Mary.
“He’s my mentor. He’s like my big brother,” Johnson said. “Everyone from St. Vincent is like a big family. It’s just like Bethune-Cookman.
“When he was still (in Cleveland), if I needed any advice, I’d call him.”
Playing for LeBron’s old school this year had its ups and downs, Johnson said. Before the state tournament, he sent a text to the NBA superstar asking for advice, and LeBron sent him back a text: “Go get it. No excuses.”
“I showed the other players the text, and they got real excited,” Johnson said. “We used that line as motivation for us through the whole tournament.”
On the other hand, the displeasure of Cavaliers fans over James’ departure to Miami was sometimes transferred to his old high school.
“When you play a team from Cleveland, the whole crowd hates you,” Johnson said. “When the Cavaliers recognized us at the Chicago game, we heard some boos. But we got some cheers, too.”
Johnson originally committed to Lehigh, but the school rescinded the offer based on test scores, he said.
“A lot of schools stopped talking to me after that. I had to start over,” said Johnson, who picked B-CU over Youngstown State. “It was a rough time for me, but I think it worked out for the best.
“At my official visit (to B-CU), it seemed like everyone was part of a big family. The students, the players, the teachers are all trying to help you.”
Johnson is B-CU’s third signee for next season. The Wildcats also signed 6-foot-7 forward Alex Smith of Florida State College-Jacksonville and Jacksonville Lee High, and 6-5 forward Marc Mack of Chicago, who last year played for Fishburne Military School, a prep school in Virginia.
Cliff Reed said he expects to sign two more big men.