Tale of reform
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - October 10, 2017 - 4:00pm

The story of disgraced TNT import Glen Rice, Jr. rejecting a chance to reform in the PBA after a sordid past isn’t a reflection of what may seem to be the hopelessness of a bad boy trying to walk the straight path. In fact, there was another import in the same Governors Cup with a history similar to Rice’s but he recovered and never strayed in turning a new leaf.

Of course, what Rice lived through before his tour of duty in the PBA was an experience that many wouldn’t have survived. Thrice, he was suspended during his three years with the Georgia Tech varsity on charges that included driving under the influence of alcohol and discharging a firearm. In 2015, he was shot in the leg during an altercation in an Atlanta restaurant and later arrested in possession of 240 grams of marijuana and $6,000 cash. In 2016, Rice was arrested for assault. And only last February, he was jailed in Miami for punching a bouncer at Tootsie’s Cabaret, a nightclub. 

Despite his heavy baggage, Rice was given a chance by TNT. Too bad he threw it out the window. What TNT offered Rice was a new lease on life. TNT alternate governor and former PBA chairman Patrick Gregorio treated him like a son. The problem was Rice abused the limits of patience, reason and compassion. 

But comes the tale of Kia import Geron Johnson, a replacement for the Picanto’s original recruit Markeith Cummings. He was the shortest import in the league, standing 6-2 5/8 but never played like his lack of ceiling was a handicap. In four games with Kia, Johnson averaged 34 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.3 steals and 41.5 minutes to overshadow the likes of Rice, Blackwater’s Henry Walker, Meralco’s Allen Durham and Barangay Ginebra’s Justin Brownlee. More than his stats, what was impressive about Johnson was his transformation from someone down on his luck to someone back on his feet.

Johnson was raised by a single parent, his mother, just like Rice. As a high school sophomore, Johnson’s mother Duana Hancock asked former NBA guard Sedric Toney to be his mentor. Toney played for six teams in the NBA from 1985 to 1994 so his experience went a long way in honing Johnson’s skills. But Johnson had a problem with itchy fingers. As a prep junior, he was arrested for an attempted burglary. Poor grades and discipline issues took Johnson to Chipola Junior College after high school instead of enrolling in a Division I school.

At Chipola, Johnson was expelled for possession of marijuana. He transferred to Garden City Community College and was also expelled for theft and criminal trespassing. Johnson stole a fellow student’s cellphone. Within a month, he was arrested thrice. Then, Johnson went to the University of Memphis where in his first year, he was suspended for three games because he received “impermissible benefits.” Memphis coach Josh Pastner called him an “explosive athlete” while Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook writer Steve Irvine described him as a “dynamic combo guard with a checkered past and an all-around talent.” Here was Johnson’s chance to shine on the big Memphis stage just like Derrick Rose, Rob Dozier, Sylvester Gray and Penny Hardaway did. He couldn’t afford to blow it.

At Memphis, Johnson realized there was more to life than living selfishly without purpose from day to day. He volunteered to be a reader to small children and took his studies seriously. At the end of his first year at Memphis as a junior, Johnson was cited for his academic achievement and invited to join the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in the summer. He averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds with Memphis in 2012-13. The next season, his last as a collegiate player, he averaged 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds. More importantly, Johnson earned a degree in interdisciplinary studies.

From Memphis, Johnson tried his luck in the NBA and nearly made it to the Houston Rockets lineup for the 2014-15 campaign. He went on to play in the NBA D-League and as an import in Mexico and Lebanon. In 2016, Johnson received a Lebanese passport and qualified as a naturalized import at the West Asia Basketball Association championships in Amman. It was a big switch for Lebanon to recruit a point guard instead of a center as a naturalized import after the likes of Joe Vogel and Jackson Vroman. The experiment, however, was a flop as Lebanon finished with a 1-3 record. 

For Johnson to be tapped as a naturalized import was a testament to his transformation. Lebanon wouldn’t have offered Johnson a passport if he was still on the wrong track. In the 2016 Lebanese league, he averaged 22.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists while this past season, he averaged 23.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists. The numbers established his credibility. Johnson’s move to the PBA was another recognition of his talents.

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