Carroll boys basketball coach Jesse Burnette laughed every time he picked up the phone. He knew the questions were coming.
Come playoff time, it was always the same on the other end of the line. Another concerned coach from another part of Louisiana asking about “The Monsta.”
Reginal Johnson Jr. of Monroe’s Richwood High School. Is he really that good? Are these stats accurate? They can’t be. It fell on Burnette to deliver that harsh reality; it’s all true.
Outside of the Richwood staff, there’s no coach more qualified than Burnette to discuss Johnson. Burnette’s Carroll Bulldogs have the unenviable task of facing the Richwood Rams at least five times a year on average, and it seemed to him throughout the past four years it was always the 6-foot-4 forward making the key play that decided the game.
Burnette was one of several high school coaches in northeast Louisiana who showed up at Richwood’s “Woodshed” during Johnson’s 26-point, 10-rebound performance against Rayville on senior night — partly out of respect and maybe celebrating the fact “The Monsta” is finally graduating.
“I’m going to miss him as a kid and I’ll miss watching him play, but it’s time for him to move on,” Burnette joked. “It’s time for Reginal Johnson to move on to college ball and give somebody else some trouble and leave us alone.”
Before Johnson moves on, he’ll pick up another award to add to the accolades of an already decorated career. Sealed by averaging 32 points and 15 rebounds for Class 3A runner-up Richwood, “The Monsta” was named the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Farm Bureau/Mr. Basketball for 2014.
“This is the ultimate compliment. It’s one of the best feelings in the world to get acknowledged for your hard work,” Johnson said. “Some people work hard all their lives and don’t get acknowledged, so for me to get that at my age is humbling.”
Johnson has always dreamed big and backed up that confidence with his work ethic. The first time he met Richwood coach Terry Martin Sr. as an eighth-grader, Johnson told him he wasn’t going to have to worry about rebounds and points in the paint for the next four years. Then as a freshman, he let everyone know he was going to wear former Ram great and LSU Tiger Storm Warren’s number 24.
Another player at the time wore the number, but once the Richwood coaches saw what Johnson could do, 24 was his.
“They gave me the number knowing that I had some big shoes to fill and my intent was to make the shoes bigger,” Johnson said. “As long as I filled those shoes and then some, I feel like I’ve done a good job.”
In his Richwood career, Johnson expanded those shoes to fill a state championship, a state runner-up, four District 2-3A championships, three trips to the Top 28 and two Class 3A MVPs. During that time, Johnson’s reputation grew to encompass not just Monroe and north Louisiana, but to the point where “The Monsta” was a statewide commodity.
“I called the kid a warrior and I don’t use that a whole lot because I think it gets overused,” said University High coach Joe Spencer, whose team beat Richwood in the 3A championship game.
“The way he plays with his determination and will to win; he was never going away and I was extremely impressed by that.”
To the surprise of many in Louisiana, Johnson remains unsigned at the college level. While LSU, Louisiana Tech, Northwestern State and the Louisiana-Monroe have shown interest, no one has pulled the trigger and offered Johnson a scholarship outside of a few schools in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Johnson wants to stay close to home and wouldn’t mind playing at ULM — located just six miles from Richwood — but he said he hasn’t heard much at all from the Warhawks.
Wherever he ends up, Johnson just wants the chance to continue to make a difference on the court.
“Even though I’m getting these awards, I’m still going to humble myself and try to do the same things in college I was able to do in high school,” Johnson said.
“There’s a time and place for everything, so I’m just going to keep praying and thinking about it and the right answer will come.”