Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk: Clinton Johnson

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Growing up with many siblings, former Kansas basketball player Clinton Johnson learned the importance of loving your family. He was one of eight kids that grew up in a close family in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he learned to not only love his family, but also embrace and help people who may be in need. He learned these values particularly from his mother, Beatrice Johnson, who not was only in charge of her eight children but also adopted and welcomed two more kids into the family. Beatrice, who sadly passed away on September 11, 2015 at the age of 99 years old, left a lasting impact throughout Johnson’s life on learning how to embrace and love people on a daily basis.

“One of the main things that I learned from my mother was how she treated people,” Johnson said. “She treated people with respect regardless who they were, what they did; good, bad, or whatever. She just had that ability and people loved her for it. She also had a great work ethic. She was a beautician and worked all day, but managed to somehow to have dinner at the table for all of us. “

Johnson was able to take these values that he learned from his mom and apply them early to his athletic career that ended up being beneficial to his future. He began to use the values he learned early in life in high school, where he attended Leavenworth High School. He started to embrace his coach, Ken Zacher, who was vital in his development and helped him become a better basketball player.

“He really changed everything at the high school at the time,” Johnson said. “We really didn’t have a good season there for a while but he came in my junior year and his enthusiasm and overall approach to the game really grabbed us and just took us along. The first day I met him, he told me that he watched film on me and told me that I could become a great basketball player and it went from there.”

Johnson’s high school coach was spot on about him. His first year on the varsity team, he averaged 14.4 points per game his junior year and finished third team all-state. Then in his senior year, in 1974, he averaged 24 points per game and finished first-team all-state and MVP of the Centennial League. In the two years he started for Leavenworth, the team compiled an overall record of 35-9. With his great play in his final season at Leavenworth High School, he was able to generate enough attention to get an offer from Kansas, partially thanks to his high school coach.

“Coach Zacher had worked some of the basketball camps at KU, so he kind of had a relationship with head coach (Ted) Owens and assistant coach (Sam) Miranda and he told them about me. Growing up in the area, you dream about playing basketball at KU and when you have a place with that kind of history, how can you not consider going there?” Johnson explained.

Even though Johnson was highly attracted to the possibility to play at Kansas, he was also considering other options and was initially not going to sign with Kansas. However, another big influence came into his life and convinced him to join the Jayhawk family.

“I was going to go to another school but Coach Miranda came to my high school, got me out of class and we talked for a long time,” Johnson said. “After we had a long discussion, the last thing he told me was, ‘Clint, think about what it would mean 25-30 years from now for you and your family to be a part of the history of Kansas basketball,’ and that kind of clinched it for me. There was nothing better, especially with my family being so close, being able to come to every game at Allen Fieldhouse. That was awesome.”

After Johnson decided to commit to Kansas and arrived on campus, he started to embrace the family culture of the school and of the basketball program itself. He also began to look up to head Coach Ted Owens as well. Johnson was joining a strong team from the previous year that made it all the way in the postseason to the Final Four, but the value of having a great work ethic that he learned from his mother was able to land him a starting spot for several games his freshman year.

“Coach (Ted) Owns was a life guy,” Johnson said. “He could be tough when he had to be. When I first came, to Kansas, he gave nothing to me and made me earn my spot.  When he was not pleased, he had a scowl on his face; you knew you were in trouble if he had that look on his face. But he was a great coach, always well prepared and a great person.”

In Johnson’s freshman year on the team, the 1974-75 season, he integrated into the Kansas family quickly and was able to make an instant impact. Known for his great defense, he started 13 games as a point guard while averaging 7.1 points a game. With a great supporting cast around him, he played an important role for the Jayhawks to help them win the Big Eight regular-season title, finishing with a record of 19-8.

“My freshman year was my most fun at Kansas,” Johnson said. “The group of guys who were there had gone to the Final Four the year before, so all I had to do was come in and do what I needed to do as the point guard. There wasn’t a ton of pressure on me and that kind of made it easy for me. Everything was so new and exciting, it was great.”

After a strong freshman year from Johnson and a good season from the team overall, the Jayhawks were looking to have another successful season his sophomore year. As he began to develop as a leader on the team, he started all 26 games and had a better year individually, averaging 11 points per game along with 3.5 rebounds a game. However, the Jayhawks ran into multiple injuries as they struggled and finished with a 13-13 overall record and came in fourth in the Big Eight Conference.

“In my opinion, my sophomore year was my toughest year out of all of my four years,” Johnson said. “We were 13-13 that year and that was really tough to take. We still averaged more than 10,000 fans per game and had great support that year, but we went through a lot of injuries and just didn’t have ‘it’. That was a really tough year.”

Johnson’s junior year with Jayhawks, the 1976-77 season, he started all 28 games and averaged 8.9 points per game and a 3.8 rebounds a game as they improved to an 18-10 record. Unfortunately, their improvement didn’t make a difference in the Big Eight standings as they finished in fourth place for the second-consecutive year.

In the 1977-78 season, after two difficult seasons in a row, the Jayhawks came together as a family and had a successful year in Johnson’s final campaign donning the Crimson and Blue. He started in 20 games and helped Kansas reclaim the Big Eight title as the team finished with a 24-5 record. Johnson averaged 8.2 points per game along with 2.9 rebounds a game.

Through the four years Johnson played at Kansas, Johnson is thankful for the coaching staff he had at KU, specifically Coach Miranda, who helped integrate him into the Jayhawk family. Just like Johnson’s family value of embracement that he learned from his mother, Coach Miranda possessed similar qualities to help Johnson complete his time at Kansas.

“The biggest influence for me to help me get through my time at KU was the coaching staff particularly Coach (Sam) Miranda,” Johnson said. “If I was having a tough time with anything going on in my life, I could always go and talk to him anytime and I felt comfortable with that. He was definably one of my favorite coaches and biggest influences.”

Once Johnson’s time was up at KU, he went to Los Angeles to try out for a pro summer league and ended up getting an offer to play professionally in Holland. After one season overseas, he came back to the United States and got into the car dealership business and played AAU and summer basketball for a few more years while working in the car business. As he started to move on through life, he stayed in the car business and now lives in Livermore, California and works for an internet auction company focused on selling cars. As he has grown older and became a father figure, he’s tried to pass along life lessons learned from both his immediate family and Jayhawk family onto his own family over the years.

Johnson’s son, Clinton Johnson Jr., expressed the values that his dad taught him throughout his life growing up.

“He came from a really big family, so he was always a loving type of person even when he didn’t see family in forever,” Johnson Jr. said. “What my family taught us was first, that family is very important and second, in life if you are good to people, good things will come out of it. If you take people in when they are at their worst and try to help them, good things will happen for you. My dad always made sure I had my head on straight and always said we had to be good to others.”

Throughout Clinton Johnson’s life, he has always been loving family member and willing to embrace other people. By learning these values particularly from his mother Beatrice Johnson, he was able to pave the way for a positive future for himself. With Johnson building relationships and embracing people throughout his life, starting with his high school coach Ken Zacher and then Kansas coaches Ted Owens and Sam Miranda, Johnson has been a great example of how  to treat family, people in general and help them whenever they need it the most.
Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk