Coach Jerry C. Johnson, who led the magicians of LeMoyne-Owen College to powerhouse status, during an outing at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

Over the years, legendary LeMoyne-Owen College basketball coach Jerry C. Johnson has meted out reams of advice and there are plenty of people to attest to his life-altering influence.

The Centennial Birthday Celebration for Johnson is slated for June 20 at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis located at 3700 Central Ave. The keynote speaker is the newly appointed men’s basketball coach at the University of Memphis, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

“When my career as a student-athlete on the men’s basketball team at LeMoyne-Owen College ended in 1997, Coach Johnson gave me a chance to work for him as an assistant coach on his staff,” said William Anderson, now the head coach of the Magicians.

“The two most important lessons that coach taught me while I was his assistant were to be early – not on time – and that God does not like ugly. I am forever thankful to coach for this opportunity because he prepared me to become a head coach.”

The 100th Birthday Celebration was detailed at a press conference at the college on June 1. Clint Jackson, athletic director at LOC, was joined by Jesse Chapman, Jerry C. Johnson Foundation chairman, and board members June-Chinn-Jointer and Jeffrey Higgs.

“The endowed Jerry C. Johnson Scholarship is a longtime dream of Coach Johnson to provide annually to assist a male and female student (who) attends LOC,” Jackson said. “He makes it clear that the recipients do not have to be student-athletes. Johnson was a member of the athletics staff and also a faculty member as an instructor.”

Johnson served as head men’s basketball coach at LOC for 46 years. According to Jackson, his legacy includes eight NBA players, six high school coaches, seven college coaches, one city councilman and the first American African elected mayor of Memphis, Dr. Willie W. Herenton.

“I was a 18 years old standing in the registration line when I met Coach Johnson,” Herenton said. “I was 6 feet 6 inches tall and Coach said, ‘Hey fellow, do you play basketball?’ … I did not play basketball. I was a boxer.”

At that time, LOC had intramural sports and David “Smokey” Gaines, who played for the Magicians, professionally and coached before becoming the athletic director for Shelby County Schools, asked Herenton about becoming a “rebounder.”

“I sat on the “bench for two years and was active for two years,” Herenton said. “Coach Johnson valued education and he taught us discipline, character and motivated us to go to class and graduate.”

Board Chairman Chapman said Hardaway was secured as the keynote speaker before the former NBA star and UofM legend had been appointed coach of the Tigers.

The fundraiser will generate dollars to provide scholarships to students at LeMoyne-Owen College.

“Any and all donations to the foundation benefit LOC above and beyond because with these contributions, we can compete for (the) most talented, the best and the brightest students locally, regionally and nationally,” Jackson said

LOC alumni and supporters have planned a week of events to honor the legendary coach.   

“Coach Johnson represents academic and athletic excellence for hundreds of young women and men who he taught and coached,” Higgs said.

“His time at LOC should not only be celebrated, but etched in the history of our nation.This legendary man learned the game of basketball from one of the gentlemen who invented the game.”

Tickets for the fundraiser are $100 per person and can be purchased online at the foundation’s website – jcjfoundation.org.

(For more information about the Jerry C. Johnson Foundation, contact Jesse Chapman, chairman, at 901-435-1478; or Clint Jackson at 901-435-1238. Paula Anderson is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected])