MORGANTOWN — For whatever odd reason, I’ve always remembered one of the first times I saw Kedrian Johnson play basketball in a WVU uniform.
It was late in a game against VCU, in something called the Crossover Classic off in far away Sioux Falls, S.D.
The Mountaineers had already clinched a victory and Johnson was on the floor for clean-up duty.
He was dribbling down the floor in transition and sort of got caught up between passing the ball or taking a shot.
Instead he just sort of flipped the ball ahead and it wound up going to the wrong team.
Three years later, Johnson nearly cleaned up Maryland all by himself in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday.
He could have used a little help, but didn’t get much, as Maryland survived with a 67-65 victory at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala.
Johnson finished with a career-high 27 points and nearly won the game with a 28-foot attempt at the buzzer that was a little left and grazed the front of the rim.
“Please go in,” Johnson said was the thought on his mind. “That was about it. Please go in, that’s about all I can say.”
Exhausted afterward, all Johnson could do was fall into an embrace with teammates, as the Terrapins (22-12) celebrated at the other end.
“For me personally I try to live in the moment, try not to really get too far ahead of myself,” Johnson told the media on Wednesday. “The emotions are high, but, you know, I think I’ll be good.”
In a losing effort, Johnson was flat-out terrific, and the thought of coming up short has no business getting tagged onto his resumé or legacy at WVU.
In fact, it’s been a long time — maybe since the days of Frank Young back when John Beilein was coaching at WVU — has one player shown such great improvement from beginning to end of his college career with the Mountaineers.
After that first year, Johnson grew into the man with no fear.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Johnson built his career barreling into the lane and throwing his body at risk, while trying to score against athletes twice his size.
Sometimes — like his moments in the second half when he somehow pulled off two consecutive and-one drives to the bucket that helped get WVU (19-15) back into the game — Johnson’s runs to the rim turned out to be highlights.
“Those were great moments for me,” he said. “Every shot felt good. I was blessed to have the opportunity to showcase that.”
Other times, they ended up with twisted ankles, a hard fall on his injured hips and even concussions.
Not that those mattered. As soon as Johnson could get back on the floor, he was still just as determined driving through that lane at break-neck speed.
Bruised and battered did not matter to Johnson, only winning.
That’s the image we should all hold of Johnson when the days after this NCAA-tournament defeat have turned into months and even years.
Soft spoken and humble; determined and tough. It all led to Johnson playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder and squeezing every bit of ability his body would allow.
Those should never be forgotten, too.
“That’s a bad man right there,” is how Maryland coach Kevin Willard described Johnson, summing it up best. “He’s a tough matchup. I’m a big fan of his.”