Former University of Kansas basketball guard Clint Johnson, who played for the Jayhawks from 1974-78 after starring in both basketball and track and field at Leavenworth High School, died on Nov. 16 at his home in Livermore, Calif., KU’s athletic department has confirmed.
He was 66 years old.
Known as a great athlete — he won the Kansas Class 4A state high jump title his senior year with a leap of 6-10 — Johnson started 13 games as point guard his freshman season at KU. While averaging 7.1 points per game, he helped the Jayhawks to a 19-8 record and Big Eight regular-season title.
Remaining a starter, he averaged 11.0 points per game as a sophomore and 8.9 points and 3.8 rebounds as a junior for teams that finished fourth in the Big Eight.
As a senior, Johnson averaged 8.2 points and 2.9 rebounds a game for the 24-5 Big Eight champion Jayhawks.
In all, Johnson started 87 of 108 games played under coach Ted Owens.
Johnson averaged 8.8 points for his career and accumulated 225 assists and 127 steals. He scored 951 points as a Jayhawk.
“One of my teammates at KU, Clint Johnson, passed away in his sleep. I have played against and with some great athletes over my four years at KU and 12 years in the NBA. Clint was up there with all of them. More important he was just a special guy. Always positive. Always encouraging and upbeat. You will be missed,” former KU and NBA center Paul Mokeski wrote on Facebook.
In high school, Johnson averaged 14.4 points per game his junior year, his first on the Leavenworth High varsity team, and was voted third-team all-state. That team went 20-3 and won the Kansas 4A state championship sportsmanship award.
Then in his senior year, in 1974, Johnson averaged 24 points per game and finished first-team all-state and as MVP of the Centennial League. He was also a team captain.
In the two years he started for Leavenworth, the team compiled an overall record of 35-9. He once scored 42 points in a game.
Former Leavenworth High basketball coach Bob Knoll, who was an assistant coach during Johnson’s final two seasons of high school basketball (under head coach Ken Zacher) told The Star on Thursday night: “Clinton Johnson was one of the finest athletes to ever grace the halls of Leavenworth High School. A phenomenal basketball player whose mental and physical abilities earned him the numerous accolades he achieved on all levels in sports and life. As great of a basketball player that Clinton Johnson was, he was an even greater person, teammate, friend, classmate, relative and parent. To know Clinton Johnson was to have a ‘real’ friend for a lifetime.”
Earlier Knoll had written on Facebook: “Please join me in giving condolences, love, thoughts and prayers to his wonderful family. It is with a heavy heart that I give a final ‘H3’ (team motto) to one of the greatest ever at LHS. His legacy will forever be remembered.”
Johnson several years ago was inducted into the Leavenworth High School Hall of Fame.
The Leavenworth coaching staff was important in helping Johnson attain a scholarship at KU.
“The first day I met him (Zacher), he told me that he watched film on me and told me that I could become a great basketball player and it went from there. Coach Zacher had worked some of the basketball camps at KU, so he kind of had a relationship with head coach Owens and assistant coach Miranda and he told them about me,” Johnson told KUAthletics.com several years ago. “Growing up in the area, you dream about playing basketball at KU, and when you have a place with that kind of history, how can you not consider going there?”
“The biggest influence for me to help me get through my time at KU was the coaching staff — particularly coach Miranda,” Johnson also told KUAthletics.com. “If I was having a tough time with anything going on in my life, I could always go and talk to him anytime, and I felt comfortable with that. He was definitely one of my favorite coaches and biggest influences.”
Miranda won over Johnson during the recruiting process.
“I was going to go to another school but coach Miranda came to my high school, got me out of class and we talked for a long time,” Johnson said. “After we had a long discussion, the last thing he told me was, ‘Clint, think about what it would mean 25-30 years from now for you and your family to be a part of the history of Kansas basketball,’ and that kind of clinched it for me. There was nothing better, especially with my family being so close, being able to come to every game at Allen Fieldhouse. That was awesome.”
Of Owens, Johnson told KUAthletics.com: “Coach Owens was a life guy. He could be tough when he had to be. When I first came, to Kansas, he gave nothing to me and made me earn my spot. When he was not pleased, he had a scowl on his face; you knew you were in trouble if he had that look on his face. But he was a great coach, always well prepared and a great person.”
Johnson was the youngest of 10 children (two adopted) and raised by his mom, Beatrice, who died in September of 2015.
“One of the main things that I learned from my mother was how she treated people,” Johnson told KUAthletics.com. “She treated people with respect regardless (of) who they were, what they did, good, bad or whatever. She just had that ability and people loved her for it. She also had a great work ethic. She was a beautician and worked all day but managed to somehow to have dinner at the table for all of us. “
After college, Johnson played professional basketball in the Netherlands for Donar. At the time the team’s coach described him as “the best jumper” the franchise ever had and “top scorer on the team.”
According to his obituary ... Johnson “settled in California to start a family, working in the car business until his passing. He also took on photography, web design and other artistic endeavors. He was a devoted father, grandfather, the ‘cool’ uncle the family admired, a loving soul, known for his quick-witted one-liners and whose guidance was the foundation for our family and those around us. He leaves behind his two children Clinton (Nick) and Cerena, two he loved as his own, Tonya and Shay, as well as two grandsons, Malcolm and Bryson.”
A Celebration of Life for Johnson will be in Leavenworth with a date, location and time to be announced.