As a former AAU coach for more than a decade, Dion Bethea tries to support his former players.
That’s why Bethea will be in Houston this weekend to watch one of his former players, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, play in his first Final Four. The Tar Heels play Syracuse in the second game Saturday at NRG Stadium.
“If I got time, I try to see as many of my guys as possible,” Bethea said this week. “I’m always somewhere supporting those guys. It is something I have always done. I wouldn’t miss seeing Brice play in the Final Four.”
Bethea, the head coach at Gray Collegiate, coached Johnson four years with the Carolina Ravens. The forward was part of a talented team, which finished runner-up in the AAU 17-under national tournament in 2010.
In addition to Johnson, who was one of the youngest players on the team, other high profile players on that squad included Notre Dame/FSU quarterback Everett Golson, South Carolina tight end Jerrell Adams, former Clemson/BYU standout Demarcus Harrison and former Keenan standout Eric Watson.
Bethea and Johnson have maintained a close relationship. He has been to several UNC games this season, including all four of the Tar Heels’ NCAA tournament games. In high school, he accompanied Johnson on recruiting trips, along with Johnson’s father, Herman, who was his high school coach at Edisto.
Johnson was a highly-touted recruit coming out of Edisto High in Orangeburg and was a two-time South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year. South Carolina was one of the first schools to recruit Johnson. but Bethea said the Gamecocks were in the midst of a coaching change and that hurt in the recruiting process. He ended up at UNC and showed some flashes of his potential his first three years before making the jump as one of the nation’s top players this season.
The credit is to Brice and all the work he has put in. He sees what is at the end of rainbow."
Dion Bethea, Johnson’s former AAU coach
The 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds a game this year. He was a first-team All-American by several media outlets and will have his No. 11 jersey honored in the rafters at the Smith Center with the other Tar Heel greats.
“It means a lot, whoever thought I’d end up there – I never even thought I’d be here,” Johnson told GoHeelsTV. “It’s very special for me to be able to say that I can one day have my jersey hanging in there.”
“I think all this proves that he belongs. The credit is to Brice and all the work he has put in,” Bethea said. “He sees what is at the end of rainbow.”
That hard work included driving from Chapel Hill to Columbia every other Saturday last summer to work with former Eau Claire coach George Glymph. Bethea said Glymph, the hall of fame coach, worked with Johnson on his footwork and his shooting.
Johnson’s field goal percentage went from 56.6 to 61.6 percent and free-throw percentage is up from 67 percent to 78 percent. Many draft experts have Johnson pegged as a mid-to-late first-round selection.
“I’m really proud of him. There was a lot of doubters that said he was over his head,” Bethea said. “But being around the kid, I knew the sky was going to be limit. He wanted to keep working and loved the game so that is what makes this all special.”
Johnson makes UNC history
Brice Johnson, the North Carolina senior forward from Orangeburg, will enter the Final Four on record-breaking streak: three consecutive NCAA games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. His 23 double-doubles this season are a school record.
vs. Notre Dame
25 points and 12 rebounds
21 points and 10 rebounds
20 points and 10 rebounds
Men’s Final Four
Villanova vs. Oklahoma: 6 p.m., Saturday, TBS
Syracuse vs. North Carolina: 8:45 p.m., Saturday, TBS