Johnson faces the biggest game of his life |

Johnson faces the biggest game of his life

As long as it has taken to get South Tahoe High 6-foot-8 rim rocker Curtis Johnson and Reno 6-11 skyscraper David Padgett on the same court, you half expect to see Don King asking for $100 per ticket at the gym entrance Friday night.

The Northern Nevada 4A League twin towers didn’t compare shoe sizes last season and spring and summer schedules took them miles apart.

But this fierce game of dodge ball will cease Friday night in South Lake Tahoe in a dimly-lit gym packed with basketball history, but one that likely hasn’t seen a better one-on-one matchup.

“I wanted to play him really bad last year, but he had that knee injury,” Johnson said. “I can’t wait to play him.”

Johnson has everything to gain by competing against Padgett. Major colleges will want to know if the young man from the mountains with an engaging smile can deliver against one of the country’s best high school prospects.

“I expect recruiters and college coaches will hopefully come watch this game. By far, this is the biggest game of my career,” Johnson said.

For the past four seasons, Padgett has been abusing Reno-area players like the sneaky junior high baller who shuffles over to the elementary school playgrounds during lunch time to school second-graders.

Drawing wisdom from a dad/coach with more game than “The White Shadow,” Padgett has racked up impressive individual statistics, but his Huskies have yet to win regional or state titles.

By Padgett’s junior seasons, coaches from Kansas, North Carolina and Stanford could recall the Padgett’s home phone number faster than their wives’ birthdays.

Ultimately, the Jayhawks, who know a thing or two about Northern Nevada basketball, landed Padgett, who is averaging 26.2 points and 14 rebounds per game this season.

Johnson’s road to South Lake Tahoe was bumpier than a ski run down Gunbarrel. Growing up in Hunter’s Point in San Francisco, being a member of a neighborhood gang became more important than his teammates on the hardwood.

Gang-related trouble took him away from his home and into a regimented reform program in Stockton. After completing his reform at the Rite of Passage facility, Johnson decided against returning home to San Francisco.

He started a new life in South Lake Tahoe in 2000 and has transformed himself into a legitimate Division I basketball prospect.

For the first time in his prep basketball career, Johnson will look up at an opposing center on Friday night. How he will react and perform is a mystery that even Velma, Fred, Scooby-Doo, Shaggy and Daphne couldn’t solve before the 7 p.m. tipoff.

“I’m just as curious as everybody else,” said Derek Allister, Johnson’s coach and father figure for the past two years. “I want to see what he’ll do against a high-level player who is one of the best in the country. It’ll be a good barometer of where Curtis stands as a Division I player. “

And if Allister knows Johnson as well as he thinks he does, the third-year coach doesn’t see Padgett embarrassing his star center.

“In the bigger games against the bigger and better players, he’s always played well,” Allister said. “I think Curtis will hang in there. I don’t anticipate it being easy for David at all, just because Curtis is a big guy with a big wingspan.”

Johnson isn’t worried about taking on Padgett in the low post, but his perimeter game is filling the 2001-02 all-league player’s stomach with more butterflies than a flower garden. Padgett sank 2-of-3 three-point attempts in a 61-28 romp over Douglas last Friday.

“I’m mostly afraid of his ability to shoot. I don’t want to get caught on a pump fake or something like that,” Johnson said. “I think I can contest his shots, get a hand in his face to hopefully throw him off.”

A hand in Padgett’s face. That alone is worth the price of admission.

— Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or

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