The Will Johnston Story: Part 2

 

For all parts of this series, click here.

Will Johnston
Will Johnston

First Basket, Quitting, and Coming Back

On December 22, 2011, Will Johnston scored the first basket of his freshman season in 71-50 win over Eastern Michigan.

“It was a deep three,” Johnston said. “I’ll never forget that. It was real deep, like near the hash mark. It was probably like 30 seconds left, we were up big, so Greenberg put me and Joey Racer in. I remember hitting that three, and hearing the announcer say “Will Johnston for three” in Cassell Coliseum…so crazy.”

As it turned out, that would be his only basket of the season. Seth Greenberg’s team played 16 regular season ACC games, and 12 of them were decided by five points or fewer. Both ACC tournament games – a 68-63 win over Clemson and a 60-56 loss to Duke – also went down to the wire. That’s not an environment that is conducive to a walk-on getting into many games.

Johnston ended up playing in four games that season. In fact, his appearance for less than a minute at the end of a loss to UVA cost him the chance to redshirt. Had he redshirted, he would be eligible to return for the 2015-16 season.

“I was so pumped at the time to play those two seconds,” Johnston said. “But those two seconds took a whole year away from me. It’s all right, I loved playing.”

At that point, Johnston thought he had had his moment in the sun. He got to make a shot in a blowout game as the student section cheered, with his scholarship teammates going crazy on the bench. For a walk-on in college basketball, that’s usually as good as it gets.

That offseason is remembered as the offseason that saw all of Seth Greenberg’s assistants leave, and later saw Greenberg himself get the axe. What we didn’t know at the time was that in Will Johnston’s mind, he was finished with basketball at Virginia Tech.

“After my freshman year, I had quit for probably around two months,” Johnston said. “I was just like ‘I’m never going to play, it was fun walking on for a year, I guess something else is for me.'”

Just because Johnston had given up on basketball didn’t mean his coaches had given up on him. Strength and conditioning coach David Jackson and assistant coach James Johnson (before leaving for Clemson) put in multiple calls to Johnston in an effort to try and keep him on the team.

“The whole time I was off, Johnson would call me every other week,” Johnston said. “Coach Jackson, our strength coach, he would call me at least once a week and tell me that he still considered me on the team.”

When James Johnson accepted a job on Brad Brownell’s staff at Clemson, Virginia Tech didn’t have any assistant coaches remaining. When Seth Greenberg was fired on April 23, the players not only didn’t have any assistant coaches, but they then lacked a head coach as well.

“I’m pretty sure all that staff was leaving,” Johnston recalled. “I remember [strength coach David] Jackson being our temporary coach.”

After a temporary search, Jim Weaver did what many fans thought he would do. He hired James Johnson away from Clemson. After just a couple of weeks away from Virginia Tech, Johnson was named head coach on May 1. One of the first things he did was reach out to his former players, including Will Johnston.

“Right after Johnson got the job, he called me and was like ‘you’re back on this team, I can promise that you’re going to be playing contributing minutes and not just at the end of the game.’ So I said “All right, I’m back.’ So I came back in Summer II (the second summer session).”

A head coach

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