When athletic director Kevin Buechler hired Ron Johnson as the new basketball coach, he wanted to prove that the Davidson Day Patriots could be a contender in the private school leagues.
When you look at Johnson's coaching career, it's obvious why. Johnson has had success throughout his 20-year career.
He has coached up and down the East Coast, won two state titles and various coaching awards. Now he's working to turn Davidson Day around and make it a force in the Lake Norman area.
His office is filled with tokens of his past success: pictures of championship teams, framed newspaper articles and signed photos.
Originally from New Jersey, Johnson played basketball ball at Barry University in Miami, where he was a four-year starter. He set school records for scoring and steals and even had his No. 12 jersey retired in 1989.
After graduation, he had an opportunity to play professionally in Ireland, but he didn't take it. His real focus was on coaching.
"I wanted to start coaching," Johnson said. "I knew I was going to coach from the time I was in high school."
Johnson said he spent the last two years of his college career watching his coaches and seeing why they did certain drills. The first time he realized he really wanted to coach was when he helped coach his younger brother, Marcus, on a recreation team.
"I was in ninth grade, and I'm coaching this rec league team," he said. "I felt like, 'Wow, this is great. This is where I need to be at.'"
Johnson was an assistant coach at Barry after he graduated in 1989 with a degree in athletic administration. He then moved to a middle school in Miami where he was an athletic director and coach.
He was the head boys coach at two schools in Florida: Central Catholic High School in Melbourne and The Benjamin School in North Palm Beach.
At North Palm Beach, he won three county coach of the year awards, State of Florida Coach of the Year and a state championship in 2001.
He went to Washington, D.C., in 2003 and was the athletic director and head boys' basketball coach at The SEED School, a public boarding school.
"I kind of like starting things," Johnson said of his move from The Benjamin School to The SEED School. "We had done a pretty good job at The Benjamin School. We won a state championship, and it was kind of like, 'What's next?'"
But as a father of four, the weather, cost of living and traffic didn't suit his lifestyle, he said. So he finally settled in North Carolina, joining Cannon School in 2004 as the athletic director and head boys' basketball coach.
He won his second state championship with Cannon in 2006.
"In the two state championship games that I've played in, we've not been the team with the most talent," Johnson said.
"We've actually been the team that people think, 'They're going to get blown out.'"
Johnson said his teams' ability to execute well and play strong defense is what has made them successful. That's the philosophy he's brought to Davidson Day.
He joined Davidson Day after spending a year as the basketball program coordinator at the University of Georgia. After Georgia head coach Dennis Felton was fired, Johnson came back to North Carolina. That's when Davidson Day athletic director Kevin Buechler and head of school Bonnie Cotter got in touch with him.
Johnson said what he liked about the school was that it was just getting started (the upper school graduated its first class last year), and he could put his fingerprint on the program.
"There wasn't a lot of success here, and I had the opportunity to kind of bring something new - build something different," he said.
Buechler said Johnson has done a lot for the school both on the court and off. Johnson serves as the dean of student life in addition to his coaching duties.
"If he didn't coach basketball, he's still one of the best hires we've ever made," Buechler said.
"He helps us not just team-wise but on the court and off the court," said sophomore Rashun Davis, who transferred to Davidson Day this year from Hickory Ridge. "He's been a great coach to us."
The Patriots (5-1 through Dec. 10) have already equaled the number of wins they had last year (5-17), but Johnson has higher goals.
"I was telling the kids that there's a certain kind of standard that we're trying to get to and because we've won a game doesn't mean that we've actually achieved that," he said. "We have game goals: different things we're going to accomplish each game. ... If we get those things, we're getting close to playing a perfect game."
Johnson works his team hard. Practice is a constant flow of one drill into another with very little downtime. This year, he says, is not about wins and losses, but about establishing a foundation for future teams. Over the next few years, he plans to make the schedule tougher and getting his team competitive with the other schools in the area.
Senior Demond Gates played at Davidson Day last year and sees a big difference in the team this year.
"It's the best team I've been on," he said.
When asked the biggest effect coach Johnson has had on the team, Gates summed it up simply.
"Last year we didn't compete. This year we do."