Junior guard already a proven team leader

Aaron Johnson just wants to win.

For the last two-plus seasons, Johnson has been a major part of the transformation of Central Cabarrus, from a team that won only four games in 2008-09 to a team that won 19 games and went to the second round of the 3A playoffs last year to a team expected to contend for the South Piedmont Conference crown and beyond this season.

Johnson has been a starter almost since the day he stepped on campus, leading the team with 11 points a game as a freshman.

"When I first got here, we were still in a rebuilding phase," said Johnson, who didn't lose a game at C.C. Griffin Middle, taking two straight SPC Middle School Conference Championships. "But we fought through the tough times and kept going."

Johnson went on to average 12 points last season.

This year, Johnson currently is scoring 16 points and grabbing nine rebounds a night for the Vikings, as they are off to a 4-2 start.

"Really, I just want to win; that is all I care about," said Johnson. "I don't care about all the statistics and numbers, I just want the 'W.'"

While some players might merely say that, Central Cabarrus basketball coach Brian King said Johnson is the ultimate team player.

"Aaron is one of those players that leads by example," said King. "His No. 1 goal is to win. He will do the dirty work and the tough things you need.

"That says a lot about what can kind of person and player he has become."

Johnson and point guard L.C. Cooks, both juniors, have been the main reasons for the resurgence of Central Cabarrus basketball. The two combined to average nearly 30 points per game last year. This year, the Cooks-Johnson combination, which also played at C.C. Griffin, already is up to 40 points per contest.

"They've got a good chemistry that can result in some plays that are special," said King. "When those guys are playing on the same page together, they can be a tough combo to stop."

While Cooks possesses most of the speed and flash, Johnson represents the hustle and toughness for an undersized Viking squad. Johnson is also the team's best on-the-ball defender, according to King.

A lot of Johnson's toughness and grit comes from his role on the football team, where the 6-foot-2, 187-pound forward was an all-conference receiver in the fall.

"I really try not to even think about my size as an issue inside," said Johnson, who regularly plays against players three to four inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. "I just try to do my job, which is to rebound the ball and put the ball in the hole."

The speed, talent and toughness the 2010 team has also reminds King of the teams he and Concord and former Central Cabarrus coach Scott Brewer led earlier this decade, including the 2000 state-championship squad led by former Viking Ish Smith, who now plays for the NBA's Houston Rockets.

"It's important for us to establish Central Cabarrus as winners again," said King, who coached at Central from 2000 to 2006 before returning in 2008, becoming head coach in 2009. "Winning 19 game last year was a big deal for us, but now the challenge is for us to improve even more and to go even further."

Johnson worked tirelessly in the offseason to get bigger, stronger and faster at the N.C. State Games and the East Coast Invitational with his Central team, as well as on the AAU circuit, where he teamed with other local stars like Shivaughn Wiggins (North Mecklenburg), Deandre Bembry (Rocky River), Jarvis Haywood (Waddell) and Mike Brown (West Charlotte) on the Charlotte Nets.

For the next two seasons, Johnson said, he hopes all the work translates into more wins and a brighter future, in which he could play football or basketball in college.

"Aaron has the talent to be a Division I basketball player, but he could also do the same in football," said King. "I think he will eventually have a decision to make."

For now, Johnson is focused on his role for the Viking basketball team and his main concern is - as always - winning.

"We feel pretty good about our team this year and where we are," he said, "but we aren't satisfied at all. Hopefully we can keep winning and win a conference title. Right now that is what we are working for."