All-Bee Teams

2011 Boys Basketball All-Star Team

Class: Senior

Position: Guard

He's qualified because: Tri-River Athletic Conference Player of the Year, at 6-foot-3, had to play inside and out for a smallish Golden Eagles team that exceeded expectations, won the league with a 9-1 record, and finished 24-6 overall and second to Bullard for the Central Section Division I title. He averaged 21.2 points and 8.2 rebounds. Next stop: Santa Clara.


His Godbrother, De'Jon Jackson, was named Bee Player of the Year for Clovis West High in 2006.

His brother, Brandon Johnson, landed the honor for the Golden Eagles in 2007.

So did Denzel Johnson have a choice?

"That was a challenge of mine," the Clovis West senior says, "and, yes, I wanted to get it, too. It was a goal, definitely."

He achieved it in a close call over Central Valley Christian junior Grant Verhoeven, the Central Section's most coveted recruit.

While both fell short as top seeds in section finals at Selland Arena, Santa Clara-bound Johnson wins a tiebreaker with arguably the most difficult accomplishment in the section - capturing the Tri-River Athletic Conference title.

Further, the TRAC Player of the Year did so as the big man, at 6 feet, 3 inches, on a five-guard team that somehow emerged from the deep league's grinder with a 9-1 record. And the only loss was 63-62 to Buchanan.

"If you were to say in January that Clovis West would go 9-1 in the TRAC, well, a lot of people would have voted against you," said coach Rob Streeter of Division II champion Clovis North, a first-year TRAC member. "[Coach] Tom Orlich and Denzel did a phenomenal job."

It was a breakout year for Johnson, who didn't so much as make honorable mention All-TRAC as a junior.

Consequently, the street talk regarding the section's players to watch this season excluded him.

Verhoeven, Clovis East's Kevin Bailey, Bakersfield's Tyrone Wallace, Tulare's William Stallworth and Buchanan's Alex Fertig?

Yes.

Denzel Johnson?

No.

"He wasn't even in the discussion," Orlich says.

But something was happening. In fact, it had begun last summer.

"It was almost as if his body was possessed by some alien," Orlich says. "He was a whole different person. Every time we played in the summer he was good for 25 points. The summer before we were lucky if we got 10."

At a time of intense college evaluations, Johnson was attracting attention: Pepperdine, UC Davis, Saint Mary's, San Francisco and UC Santa Barbara also came swooping in.

But Santa Clara got the nod over Santa Barbara, Johnson committed to the Broncos of the West Coast Conference in September and signed two months later.

Then came a September season that appears to have justified Santa Clara's investment.

Always a good shooter, Johnson heeded an Orlich directive and began attacking the basket.

"That's what really elevated his game," Orlich says. "That was something we really worked on in the offseason, getting to the basket and to the free-throw line, and it made a difference. The great players get to the basket and that's what he had to do to make the transition and climb that last mountain."

The result: 21.2-point average, 50% shooting from the field and 40% in 3-pointers in addition to 8.2 rebounds for a 24-6 team.

He also took 29 charges in a game that found a mean streak from an otherwise gentleman with a 3.5 grade-point average.

"You never saw him complain to an official," Orlich says. "He had tremendous poise, just a demeanor about him that made him special. Watching him, you wouldn't know if we were 20 points ahead or 20 behind."

Suddenly, Denzel Johnson – as a K-to-12 product of the Clovis West system – joins the discussion of Chris Hernandez, Tim Shelton, Nathan Fast, Jason Ritchey and, of course, his mentors, De'Jon Jackson and Brandon Johnson, in the lore of Clovis West basketball.

"Now," Orlich says, "Denzel is in a very elite group of alumni."

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