Alley Oop Hoops presents
"Drive & Kick" with Drew Johnson, McNair Scholars Program Coordinator, NCCU.
View the conversation summary below.
Beginnings in basketball
Drew began playing in elementary school, probably around 3rd grade, and wasn’t very good. Drew was cut from Garner Road AAU in 3rd grade. That fueled him to keep playing and progressing.
Early player influences
’94 UNC team with Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace. But it wasn’t the superstars that Drew looked up, it was Donald Williams – consistent player, great shooter, good ball handler. Dad played at NC State on ’74 championship team, cousin also played. Memories going to games as a kid, his family's impact on his love for the game.
Playing at a high level
Drew had a great 8th grade year, and when the season ended, one of his friends mentioned AAU. He tried out for the “Raleigh Heat,” coached by Chris Davis. Drew was in the mindset of “do whatever it takes” to make varsity as a sophomore. “Feel yourself getting better” - best in your neighborhood, best in other neighborhoods and start to become one the best players around.
Drew didn’t know what HBCU was in high school - “it was Carolina or nothing” - wanted to play at highest level possible.
“I wasn’t producing in the way I wanted to produce. It is important to have support system wherever you are, you have to be your biggest supporter.” Look at who’s recruiting you and the relationships you’ll have with them. If the Assistant Coach is recruiting you hard, make sure that the Head Coach values your game, as the Head Coach is making the in-game decisions about who is getting minutes.
Transferring to North Carolina Central
Drew didn’t care where he went just wanted to get out of VCU. His cousin was coaching at NCCU. “I just wanted to go somewhere where I was wanted and valued. If you feel like that as an athlete, it’s written on the wall for you.”
VCU vs. NCCU
NCCU was an immediate culture shock. At VCU, the only black students are student athletes. At NCCU, everyone is black, and the band is just as important as sports. More of a community feeling at NCCU.
Student athletes’ platform
Students in general, but student athletes especially, have more of a voice now. Student athletes are more comfortable voicing their opinion on how they’re being treated. Easier to get contracts, easier to get an ear – even just ten years ago when Drew was in school, he was there just happy to be in the room now – but now athletes feel they have a seat at the table. Athletes should “keep speaking up, keep speaking out.” Student athletes should use the platform, use their voices.
Message to players making college decisions
“Go where you’re wanted and where you will be valued.” “Look at the roster, see who’s playing your position and their year – there might not be enough minutes to go around.” “When on your visit watch how they guys who don’t play are being treated. Look at how they act when the coach comes around.” Make sure that the staff values growth as a person, as you know the Coach is going to get everything out of you so get everything out of this decision.
Life after basketball
You have to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you can do this for a living. “Do I want to try to play professional because it’s all I know or because I’ll be looked at as a failure if I don’t play?” Discussed need for more coaches and basketball people to be empowering of athletes looking past basketball. Regarding career fairs, Drew remembers teammates laughing that he was focused on his future.
McNair Scholars Program
Drew’s job at NCCU is not involved with athletics, but rather working with first generation college students and low income students pursuing their Masters and PhD programs. Helping students find opportunities after Bachelors programs. Visiting schools, applying for programs. Drew enjoys building relationships with people. Drew landing this opportunity with NCCU was due in large part to building relationships with professors, which is more difficult in larger schools. “Leverage those relationships you build.”
What does Drew wish he was exposed to earlier?
“The fear of stepping out of the athletic bubble.” Drew used career fairs as an example, and remembers teammates feeling like he was either a nerd that he was focused on his future, or teammates might feel he was not dedicated to basketball. Not taking into account his preparation for the future earlier enough - “I wish I took advantage of earlier opportunities outside of basketball” – through internships, meeting the right people to help transition after college. “Build relationships outside of sports” - find interests outside of the game
Cape & Drew Podcast
Julian and Drew were VCU roommates, who both felt like outcasts on campus. They kept in touch over the years, and as friends were having conversations about life after sports, trying to find a niche after athletics. The podcast is meant to tell their stories and highlight other stories of the transitions of student athletes trying to find their “why.”
Best piece of advice
As an athlete you hear work on your craft, work on your craft - “invest in yourself” – and the same thing goes in professional world, build your strengths, and work on your weaknesses. If you are not a good public speaker, take a public speaking class. “Continue to invest in yourself, keep building your brand and marketing yourself.”