It was as if Sterling Johnson never left.
That wasn’t a coincidence: When the senior joined West Forsyth’s basketball team this year, he already knew a good amount of his fellow seniors from his time in middle school. He transferred to King’s Ridge before his freshman year, but at every team camp over the summer, including an overnight one at Wofford College over the summer, it was clear the rapport was still there.
“The kids really like him,” West boys coach Fredrick Hurt said. “They've known him, they grew up together. It was fun to watch the interaction this summer, seeing laughter. In my mind he's new, but in their mind, he's not new. They've stayed in touch with him the whole time. It's kind of fun to watch that develop over the summer.”
And in his return to the public school ranks, Johnson has fit in nicely on the court as well. In a 91-70 win over Collins Hill last week, a game he already looks back on fondly, he finished with 11 points and four rebounds. It wasn’t the flashiest game for him on the stat sheet, but that never mattered.
“What works for us is when we all share the ball,” Johnson said. “It seems like if you look at the box score from a lot of our games, we have a lot of games where five or six people are in double digits. People just move the ball and aren't trying to force stuff. That always seems to work for us.”
Johnson’s decision to come to West wasn’t entirely his, as was the decision to go to King’s Ridge in the first place. But after that school’s coach left and the Tigers finished the 2018-19 with a 4-19 record, the decision was made a little easier. Once he was with the Wolverines, any remaining reservations about leaving were gone.
“It was kind of in the back of my mind,” Johnson said. “I kind of wanted to come back. When I first found out that i would have to come here, at the beginning I was kind of sad. Now that I see it, I feel like I kind of prefer this.”
Of course, going from a 1A Private school to a 7A school is quite a jump. Playing with bigger guys wasn’t much of a transition — he’s played AAU ball, after all — but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been anything new to get used to.
“I wouldn't say (there's) challenges, but one difference that I notice with 7A teams is they have more depth,” Johnson said. “Usually at the smaller schools, they're still good but they're kind of top-heavy at the same time.”
At 6-foot-5, Johnson has the size to guard opponents’ bigger players, but the Wolverines prefer to play him as a wing rather than post him up. For Hurt, Johnson’s a guy who can run the floor, get rebounds and score, and more importantly, he brings a lot of versatility regardless of the kind of lineup the Wolverines trot out.
“He has a good size, he's athletic and it just helps our versatility,” Hurt said. “We can do multiple things. We haven't really shown all of that versatility yet. We're saving some of it, but there's also some things we've still got to work on. It's just going to open the door for a big lineup, for a small lineup. We're super excited.”
It’s hard for the Wolverines not to be thrilled: They’re 5-0 to start the season, and for Johnson, the work with his new, yet familiar team is only just beginning.
“It's good being back,” he said. “I think we have pretty good chemistry. I've only been with them since the summer, but I feel like down the road it'll be even better.”