By: Gabe Taylor '12
For incoming freshman Denzel Johnson, basketball is part of his family picture.
With two older brothers taking to the court, and legendary NBA point guard Gary Payton as his uncle, Johnson naturally developed into a basketball player.
"There was definitely pressure for me to succeed," said Johnson, recognizing the hype that surrounded his bloodline.
At the early age of one or two, a basketball fell into the hands of Johnson.
"Playing collegiately was always a plan," said Johnson.
Payton, whose memorable years came in a Seattle Sonics jersey, played a critical role in Johnson's upbringing. In third grade, Johnson even resided with Payton for three months.
"He definitely has a lot of influence on my game," said Johnson, noting Payton's impact on his defensive game.
The two remain in constant contact to this day.
"Just watching him play, I picked up a lot of those traits on the court," said Johnson.
Johnson's skills primarily lie in his ability to play the two-guard. But he is not constrained to just that position. Versatility is one of his strengths. Standing at 6' 3, Johnson is prepared to step over to point guard if the occasion presents itself.
"If the opportunity comes to play point, I wouldn't mind at all," said Johnson.
Johnson has experienced success shooting the ball. His ability to tally up points at Clovis West High School helped lead the team to a 24-6 finish. Averaging 21 points per game in his senior season, Johnson's confidence on the offensive end resulted in the most memorable game of his career.
In a neck-and-neck Cardinal Classic championship game against El Camino-San Diego, Johnson's 28-point clutch performance was capped off by a game-winning layup with only one second remaining.
Entering the Leavey Center will be nothing new for Johnson. Over the past years, Johnson has picked up tickets to watch his god-brother, De'Jon Jackson, compete against the Broncos as a San Diego Torero.
Despite receiving interest from San Diego, in addition to Pepperdine, Johnson landed on Santa Clara for essentially two reasons: the coaching staff and the education.
Johnson prides himself in his knack for learning quickly. However, he is in no way naïve to the collegiate style of play. Improving in speed is a No. 1 priority for Johnson, who understands the quick pace of college basketball.
Next time Johnson steps foot in the Leavey Center it will no longer be as a spectator. But rather as a Santa Clara basketball player who is carrying on his family's love for the game.