UCSB senior hoops star Orlando Johnson has been named Presidio Sports’ Sports Figure of the Month for August, 2011 for not only being the first Gaucho in 25 years to make the USA National Team but for also being awarded the special, once-in-a-lifetime honor of carrying the American Flag and leading the US sports delegation at the World University Games held in Shenzhen, China last month. Johnson represented UCSB and Santa Barbara with class on the world stage, setting a great example for any student-athlete. Presidio Sports writer Randy Weiss recently spoke with August’s Sports Figure of the Month, a Big West Player of the Year (2009-10) and two-time All Big West Tournament MVP, who will be looking to take UCSB back to the NCAA Tournament for a record third-straight year this season.
In fact, it’s been a magical summer for Johnson, 22, starting with his role as counselor at the The Kevin Durant Skills Academy in Chicago and, by nature of his much-valued contributions there – he was offered a similar position at the LeBron James King’s Academy in Akron, Ohio.
This gifted athlete was also a highly-regarded football star coming out of Salinas’ Palma High School.
And his was a young life marked by well-chronicled tragedies involving many family members.
At only age 11 – when kids should be as carefree as can be – Orlando was already being cared for by his two older brothers, Jamell and Robert, with the loss of their mother and later, grandmother.
“It has certainly shaped me,” he says of his non-traditional upbringing. “But in a positive way, it has made me fearless and with a determination that can’t be denied. The little things in life don’t bother me. I roll with the punches and know there are better things to come.”
He transferred to UC Santa Barbara when his Loyola Marymount coach left that program.
After red-shirting for a year, he has electrified the Gaucho hoops program leading to their two, most recent conference titles.
“…he’s one of the best guys we’ve ever had in the program…” states Bill Mahoney, Assistant Athletic Director – Communications.
On top of everything, Johnson at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds and who has been described a ‘a tireless worker,’ is a soft-spoken and humble young man who lets his game do his talking.
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Website blogs have commented how he’s improved and reached a new, higher level of performance after this summer’s ‘hoops dreams.’
“My game has matured a lot,” Johnson says. “Each year I believe I’ve gotten better, while concentrating on different aspects. I take pride in being a complete player on both ends of the court.”
And UCSB is a ‘perfect fit,’ this Sociology major states – plus, it also cuts the driving time for his brothers to attend home games.
Some of his quick stats include per game averages of: 21.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
Johnson is excited about the upcoming season – despite being somewhat tired after a whirlwind of world travel these last few months.
Plus, he’s got some new stamps in his passport.
From the time he left California for the USA National Team tryouts in Colorado Springs in early August (he made the team from the original group of 22 college all stars) – its was essentially non-stop to China over 24 days, where they finished in 5th Place … then back to the US and a rare day off to visit his brothers in Salinas … then back to Santa Barbara to join the team for strength training and conditioning.
The Gauchos are currently on the road for a 10-day, five-game exhibition tour in eastern Canada that will take them to Toronto and Montreal. They are back September 13.
This trip is their first real opportunity to practice as a team – one comprised right now of five freshmen and returning veterans – including very agile 7-foot, 3-inch Greg Somogyi from Hungary – whom Johnson played against in China.
Here’s ‘the inside scoop’ on how things are shaping up with the Gauchos ….
“We are working hard and looking strong. The freshmen look good and know that we have something special here. I’m excited about our chances of repeating as conference champs,” Johnson claims.
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And about carrying the American Flag at the World University Games?
“It was a great honor. I was really surprised when they told me that I had been selected,” he says. “I won’t forget it as long as I live.”
And, hopefully, that’s a very looong time because there are more dreams .. more challenges … a lot more life to live.
First another Gaucho championship … then the very, very real prospect of playing in the NBA. But if there wasn’t basketball in his life, there are other dreams on the horizon — of being a teacher and, of course, helping others.
“As much that has been given to me, I want to give it all back to others,” he says.
Spoken like the true champion and the incredible young man that he is …