Dion Bethea has been there for some big moments in Brice Johnson’s basketball career.
So, there was no way Bethea would miss his biggest moment on Thursday at the NBA Draft. The Gray Collegiate coach was on a plane Wednesday flying to New York to meet up with his former AAU player as well as his friends and family.
“It is a dream come true for Brice,” Bethea said of the North Carolina alum. “It has always been his dream to hear him called in the NBA Draft. That has been the goal.”
Most mock drafts have Johnson, a former Edisto standout, going in the mid-to-late first round. He’s looking to become the first South Carolina-born player to be drafted since the Detroit Pistons picked Porter-Gaud’s Khris Middleton in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft. Currently, there are only four players born in South Carolina on NBA rosters.
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Johnson worked out for the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday and has had workouts for Indiana, Golden State, Denver, Orlando, Toronto and Milwaukee.
“Emotions are going to be high. He is a small town kid from Orangeburg who dreamed of this moment,” Bethea said.
Bethea met Johnson when was 14 years old and coached him on the Carolina Ravens’ squad. He has seen Johnson through the highs, which included him becoming the top-ranked player in South Carolina during his senior season in high school and signing to play at North Carolina.
Bethea also has seen the lows of Johnson’s career, which included the beginning of his career at UNC. Johnson chronicled those days this week on the website, The Players’ Tribune.
“Even though I was a two-sport athlete, I never did much conditioning, aside from playing pickup with my friends every now and again. So, needless to say, I didn’t do very well in that first drill. In fact, it was the worst I’ve ever done at anything related to sports,” Johnson wrote.
“I called my dad (Herman) that night and told him I didn’t think I could do it. I wanted to come home. ‘You have to keep going,’ he said. ‘You can’t give up, and you can’t come home. I didn’t raise a quitter.’
“I know, it sounds kind of harsh. But trust me, it was just a little tough love.”
The tough love also came from UNC coach Roy Williams and Bethea, who remembers the conversation they had at a restaurant following a disappointing game against Iowa during his junior season. He scored two points and had four rebounds in 17 minutes.
“We built a real strong bond and I was someone he could come and vent to,” Bethea said. “But I never gave him an out. Just tried to stay positive with him and told him it is not how you start, it is how you finish.”
Johnson finished strong during the rest of his junior year, and his hard work carried over into the summer. He came to Columbia on Saturdays in June to work with former Eau Claire coach and New York Knicks assistant George Glymph.
Glymph called Johnson a “sponge” who was willing to soak up the instruction to improve his post moves. Johnson’s hard work showed as he turned in an All-America season.
Johnson averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and shot 61.4 percent in helping the Tar Heels to a spot in the national championship game.
“We always knew he had it. Once the opportunity presented itself,” Bethea said. “His work ethic increased and he really tightened up his offensive game and can score from the inside and outside. He is a complete player.”
Brice Johnson bio
High school: Edisto
College: Senior, North Carolina
Ht./Wt.: 6-10, 230
Claim to fame: Tar Heels’ first consensus first-team All-America since 2009. .. Led UNC to a 33-7 record, the ACC regular-season and tournament titles and a NCAA runnersup finish
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Johnson’s draft projections
Where experts are saying Brice Johnson will be picked in the NBA Draft:
CBS Sports’ Garry Parrish: No. 22 to Charlotte Hornets
USA Today: No. 23 to Boston Celtics
NBA Draft Express: No. 25 to the Los Angeles Clippers
CBS Sports’ Sam Vecenie: No. 27 to Atlanta Hawks
NBA.com: No. 29 to San Antonio Spurs
S.C. Born Players in NBA
A list of South Carolina-born players who were on NBA rosters at the end of last season:
Trevor Booker (Union) – Utah Jazz
Raymond Felton (Latta) – Dallas Mavericks
Kevin Garnett (Mauldin) – Minnesota Timberwolves
Khris Middleton (Charleston) – Milwaukee Bucks
Ramon Sessions (Myrtle Beach) – Washington Wizards