High School Sports

New Harding basketball coach once gave up dream for his brother. Now he's got a new one

Former Butler High assistant coach L.J. Johnson is the new head boys basketball coach at Harding High School
Former Butler High assistant coach L.J. Johnson is the new head boys basketball coach at Harding High School Harding High School

Six years ago, L.J. Johnson gave up his dream so his brother could have a better education.

That journey has led Johnson, 31, to find a new dream: He'll start work this summer as Harding High's new boys basketball coach.

"I'm extremely excited," Johnson said. "I've been a (junior varsity) head coach before, but to begin to be able to display my coaching knowledge in 7:30 (varsity) games instead of the 4:30 (JV) games is different."

Johnson was a three-sport star at Monroe's Parkwood High before he graduated in 2005. An all-conference football and basketball player, he played both sports at UNC-Pembroke, before leaving with a degree in math and communication in 2009.

Johnson played two seasons with the semi-pro Carolina Speed football team after college and had some interest to further his professional career, he said. But his father, still in Union County, was ill, and the family felt his younger brother, C.J., needed a change to improve his academic and athletic future.

At the time, L.J. Johnson was working as an assistant football coach at Providence. In 2012, he moved his brother with him to Matthews. L.J. took a job with Butler High's in-school suspension department. His baby brother became a student there.

C.J. is now a sophomore at N.C. A&T, after enjoying a successful football career at Butler. C.J. plans to major in information technology, his brother said.

L.J. worked six seasons as an assistant football coach at Butler, from 2012-17. He's also been an assistant varsity basketball and head junior varsity basketball coach for the past five seasons in addition to working with the Team Charlotte travel basketball program.

Johnson is currently head coach of the 16U team, usually made up of rising juniors. Team Charlotte is sponsored by Under Armour and plays on the shoe company's travel circuit, called the Under Armour Association.

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Johnson said he's not sure about his future coaching summer ball, but said he's "awful excited" to get to Harding, which was 15-12 under Walt Aikens last season. Aikens, one of the most beloved teachers at the school, retired after 15 seasons. During his career, Aikens coached his son, Walt Jr., a three-sport star now playing defensive back for the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

At Harding, Johnson will begin in a similar nonteaching role to what he had at Butler, but said he is working on getting licensed through a lateral entry program to teach career and technical education/digital design at his new school.

And he plans to quickly put his stamp on the Rams' basketball program.

"There's a lot of great coaches in that conference (the SoMeck)," Johnson said. "I'm not worried about what they've done in the past but to provide the best opportunities for kids and place them in situations where they can continue their athletic careers."