University Lab forward Jalen Johnson doesn’t want to just win a state championship this season.
He wants to make history.
The Cubs are no strangers to success. They’ve won six state titles in 11 Final Four appearances spanning to 1962 and sent more than their fair share of players to the college level.
But there’s one thing no U-High senior class has ever done.
“It would be the first time the school has ever won three state championships in a row or in basketball, period,” Johnson said.
U-High has won back-to-back championships twice in program history, including the 2014 and 2015 titles under coach Joe Spencer, and were crowned champs in two out of three years in the early 2000s on teams that included future NBA players Garrett Temple and Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
Johnson said the most important motivator for him is simply wanting to deliver a championship to his school and finish his senior season on top, but he is aware of what a record like this could mean.
“History is hard to make anywhere, but to make history with the Garrett Temple, Big Baby and (Shawn) Bridgewater team is amazing, Johnson said. “And then your name, 100 years from now, in the record book is kind of cool, too.”
To make history, Johnson and the Cubs will first have to make its way through the 3A bracket, starting with No. 31 Ville Platte. U-High took the No. 2 seed this season, just behind top-seeded Peabody.
This won’t be Johnson’s first trip to the postseason after being a major contributor to last year’s squad and playing a small role in the 2014 playoffs as a sophomore. Johnson would have made a larger contribution to U-High’s first championship but a knee injury kept him out until the quarterfinals.
This season, Johnson leads the Cubs with 21.8 points and 2.1 blocks per game, as well as the most charges taken. He’s also second with 8.6 rebounds per game behind fellow senior forward Wayde Sims with 9.6.
The key to Johnson’s game, Spencer said, is not confining him to one spot on the court.
His 6-foot-7 frame allows him to control the post while also shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc. But none of that compares to what Johnson can do from mid-range.
“He’s probably one of the best, if not the best, mid-range jumpers I’ve ever had,” Spencer said. “So many guys now, it’s either get to the rim or shoot (3-pointers), and Jalen can do both of those, but … he shoots that pull-up jumper, that mid-range jumper, he’s good on the high post.
“He’s just always worked on every facet of his game instead of being just a three shooter or just a post player.”
Johnson has received some attention from college coaches, mostly from southern, mid-major programs.
Tulane, Louisiana-Lafayette and Florida International offered scholarships with several more keeping in touch on an almost daily basis. But that’ll come later for Johnson.
“(Playing in college) is something I know I will be doing, but I’m going to have to focus on all of that after the season,” Johnson said. “Right now, I’m just focused on making history.”