At one point in his young life, Avery Johnson wasn’t good enough to crack the starting lineup at St. Augustine High.
“I was kind of a 30-point guy,” Johnson told The Advocate last year. “When we were up by 30, I would have an opportunity to go in the game and play a little bit.”
The diminutive backup had his number called when St. Aug’s starting point guard was suspended from the team during the 1983 state playoffs.
Off Johnson went, helping the Purple Knights complete a 35-0 season and win the Class 4A title.
That was followed, of course, by an illustrious career at Southern and 16 playing seasons in the NBA, where he later coached the Spurs and Nets.
He will be one of five persons entering the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame on Aug. 2.
Johnson led the nation with 13.3 assists per game as a senior at Southern. Despite being undrafted, Johnson carved out a career in the pros. He spent 10 seasons in San Antonio, where he became known as the “The Little General.”
He now works as an NBA analyst with ESPN.
Johnson will go into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame with Lionel Washington, the Lutcher High graduate and former Tulane star who spent 12 years as an NFL cornerback and now works as the Green Wave defensive coordinator.
Also being inducted that night in a ceremony at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome are basketball figures Kerry Kittles and Hal Cervini, along with all-around athlete Anna Koll, who will be inducted posthumously.
Washington grew up in Lutcher, where he was an outstanding all-around athlete.
At Tulane he started for three years at cornerback racking up 192 tackles and eight interceptions.
A fourth-round draft pick of the then-St. Louis Cardinals in 1983, Washington had one of the longest careers of a player at his position. Spending time with the Cardinals, Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, he played in 205 games with 165 starts and 37 interceptions.
Kittles, who also prepped at St. Aug before going on to Villanova where he was Big East Player of the Year as a junior in 1995 and a first-team All-American in 1996. The No. 8 pick in the draft by the Nets, Kittles played eight seasons and was part of two teams that reached the NBA finals.
Cervini was a three-year All-State selection at St. Aloysius (1949-51) before moving on to Tulane where he was a team captain and All-SEC in 1954 and 1955.
Described as New Orleans’ “Greatest All-Around Girl Athlete” in the 1930s, Koll won the Southern women’s tennis championship twice, the Louisiana women’s title several times and state titles in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
She set Southern AAU records in the 80-meter high hurdles (13.0) and the broad jump (15-11) along with the 50-yard dash and 120-yard hurdles. She was part of the New Orleans team which won the Southern AAU championship for four straight years (1926-29) and in each year she competed, she won at least one individual title.
She helped the Wiltz gymnasium win the AAU indoor baseball title three straight years, leading the league in batting each season. She also played on the Wiltz basketball team and made the All-Star Team three straight years.
Considered a Louisiana version of versatile female Olympian Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Koll died in 1988 at the age of 83.