Finding a player who has excelled like Khalil Johnson has, both academically and athletically, is a must-have.
The 6-9 wing player, who currently sits as the all-time leading scorer at Cleveland High School in Alabama and earned all-state honors while at Cleveland, will join Shawnee State’s program as the fifth member of SSU’s incoming recruiting class. Johnson will have two seasons of eligibility left when his clock starts with the Bears in 2021-22.
“I’m just blessed to be here,” Johnson said. “Honestly, for me, it’s a new beginning. I have the chance to be a part of something special. That’s something I’ve always wanted to be a part of — the opportunity to be great, to be different, and to be special.”
At Cleveland, Johnson proved to be a one-man wrecking crew throughout much of his time with the Panthers. Good enough to suit up for varsity competition by the time he reached eighth grade, Johnson proceeded to rewrite Cleveland’s basketball history in the years that followed.
While leading Cleveland to no less than 19 wins a season and helping the Panthers produce a 83-36 overall record from his freshman through senior seasons, Johnson blitzed the books, notching an incredible 2,558 career points at Cleveland to set the new mark for most points in a career.
He made the All-Region team in each of his four high school years, earned All-State honors three times and averaged an incredible 30.2 points, 16.4 rebounds, six blocks, and 5.3 assists with the Panthers. One of his best efforts, however, came as a junior, when Johnson, in a AHSAA Class 2A (Alabama High School Athletic Association) Northeast Regional Tournament Game, posted a 31-point, 12-rebound, 10-block performance to allow Cleveland to post a 71-47 victory.
“I played with a chip on my shoulder knowing that I went to a school with a smaller enrollment and I enjoyed every minute playing in front of my family and friends,” Johnson said. “Ever since ninth grade, I felt like I was the man and dominated every category possible on the basketball court.”
Following his high school career, Johnson got the opportunity to play at Shelton State, a NJCAA Division I powerhouse located in Tuscaloosa, Ala. just over an hour-and-half away from Johnson’s hometown.
There, Johnson thrived again.
During the 2019-20 season at Shelton State, Johnson, under the direction of SSCC head coach Joe Eatmon, helped lead the Bucs to a 28-5 overall record and the Alabama Community College Conference Championship by averaging 12.9 points on 44.4 percent shooting from the field and an astronomical 45 percent from three-point range — the best on the squad by nearly five full percentage points — while playing alongside future NCAA Division I talent Anquaevious Pollard (Nicholls State).
In addition to leading Shelton State in three-point field goal percentage and finishing second on the SSCC squad in scoring, the former Bucs finished inside the team’s top-three overall in rebounds (5.6) and assists (2.7) while serving as one of only five players to play in all 33 games while starting in at least 31 of the 33 affairs. The Bucs won seven contests in a row and 18 out of their last 20 affairs before the cancellation of the remaining 2019-20 postseason contests due to COVID-19.
Off of the court, Johnson also thrived academically, earning 2019 Commissioner’s Honor Roll and 2020 President’s List honors in the classroom while at Shelton State.
“Joe Eatmon is one of the best coaches around,” Johnson said. “He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to play for the best junior college team in Alabama, and not that far from home. He challenged his players each and every day in practice and in weights, but most importantly, he held us accountable as young men on and off of the floor. My teammates brought the best out of me as well. We all were different, but had the same goal to win a championship together. All of that hard work paid off. The Shelton State community always showed their support and loved seeing their athletes win.”
With Shawnee State, Johnson certainly sees a culture that he can get behind like he did while with the Bucs.
“It’s really family-oriented,” Johnson said. “Everybody here is trying to get better. It’s a hard-working group of guys. Our coaches are on top of us. They want the best for us, both on and off of the court. That was a big reason why I made the decision.”
Of course, having a litany of talented bodies that Johnson can call teammates doesn’t hurt, either.
“We’re going to be deep,” Johnson said. “Our depth is going to be really good. Everybody on this team has the right mindframe to try to get it done and open doors for everybody.”
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