Jay Paris: Johnson was always a gym-dandy at El Camino

Home is where the hoop is?

“Next to my house, it was probably the place I spent the most time in,’’ Ray Johnson said. “It just has a tremendous amount of good memories for me.’’

Those recollections will flow on Friday, when El Camino High’s gym becomes the Ray Johnson Gym in a ceremony honoring its former coach.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a roast or not,’’ Johnson said.

The popular Johnson, who coached 33 seasons at El Camino, toasted more prep basketball victories than anyone in San Diego County. His 763 triumphs are No. 1 and that just tells part of the story.

“I learned a lot from him,’’ said former player Carl McCullough. “He was more of a father figure than a coach to a lot of us.’’

Johnson won a lot of games and eight CIF San Diego Section titles.

But as important as his work on the hardwood was his efforts with El Camino’s special-needs kids. The ones not soaring through the air for dunks or twisting defenders’ ankles on a crossover.

While Johnson was surrounded by athletes after school, during class time, he was toiling with those on the other end.

Don’t discount how those special-needs students aided Johnson’s coaching. Perspective comes in many forms and Johnson received his on a daily basis before blowing his first whistle.

“It absolutely leaked in,’’ Johnson, 63, said. “It gave me the patience to see what kids could be when they didn’t have any idea what they could be, if you had patience.

“That’s part of the problem with sports today. The parents want their kid to be the guy right away and they’re not willing to work. They maybe get a batting instructor or a shooting instructor, but at the end of the day, it’s the work you put in, the hours you put in and patience to be able to see those things through — that is what is important.’’

Johnson is a sweet guy but never sugarcoated anything. There were no shortcuts to success and isn’t that how it should be?

“You got to be willing to put the time in,’’ Johnson said.

And as a player, willing to embrace more than the pick-and-roll.

“It was more than basketball,’’ said McCullough, who married Johnson’s daughter, Megan. “He was giving us life lessons along our journey of getting wins and losses.’’

Sure the triumphs were grand. But Johnson’s payoff came later, when his charges returned to campus looking for a hug, not a shrug, from their mentor.

“When they come back and are productive and are doing things you would never ever think, it makes you a proud daddy,’’ Johnson said. “It gives you the feeling, with some of them, that maybe what we did wasn’t productive when they were here, but it was in the next stage of their life. It’s a great feeling.’’

Johnson connected with teenagers on a level, which is admirable.

“I think it was my passion for the game,’’ Johnson said. “I think that those guys understood that I loved the game and loved what we were trying to do. Then once (the program) got going, it kind of built itself. I would talk to new players and they could relate to what we were doing because they saw it growing up. But I had no idea it was going to grow into what it did.

“I still get chills down my spine when I think about regional playoff games, with the gym packed and you can’t hear anything. To be able to experience that, you just can’t describe or replace it. You just go ‘wow this is unbelievable.’’’

What’s not farfetched is El Camino’s gym being christened for Johnson. It’s where the name, and the coach, are right at home.

Contact Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at paris_sports and at mighty1090.com

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