Former UT forward Don Johnson dies

The e-mail came this morning from a friend named Barry Smith, saying that Don Johnson, Tennessee basketball player from 1969-71, had died last night at his home in North Knoxville. That news recalled the magic moments of basketball UT-style from nearly 40 years ago.

Ray Mears recruited Johnson out of Roanoke-Benson High School in Benson, Ill., in the 1966-67 SEC championship season, joining Jimmy England and Rudy Kinard.

That was the season Ron Widby led the Vols to a surprise SEC title. Two years later, after a stellar freshman season, Don showed up at center court for the season opener against Buffalo wearing No. 52, the number Widby had worn during his career.

Widby must have influenced Johnson greatly. You never really knew how well each was playing until you totaled up the stats, and the thought came during Johnson’s career that he was an exceptional player, good enough to join England as an All-SEC selection in his senior season. If the Vols needed a big play, Johnson was one of several who could deliver.

He could shoot it with equal success from the top of the key and the corner and was tenacious enough at 6-5, 210 pounds, to battle inside for points and rebounds.

He scored 1,196 points in his three years, good for No. 33 on the all-time Tennessee scoring list. He was named All-SEC in 1970-71, with an impressive “double-double,” 18.8 points and 10.4 boards, on his resume. He was part of a solid, three-pronged attack that season, with England averaging 20.6 and Mike Edwards 17 points per game. Johnson averaged 11.5 points per game in 1968-69 and 14 in 1969-70. For his career, he also averaged 9.2 rebounds per game.

Johnson was one of the five iron men who played all 40 minutes in the historic 55-54 upset at No. 1 South Carolina Dec. 6, 1969, scoring 18 points against the heavily favored Gamecocks.

Johnson was drafted in the NBA and ABA drafts in 1971. The Baltimore Bullets drafted him in the fifth round (No. 77 overall) in the NBA draft, and the Memphis Tams selected him in the 16th round in the ABA draft.

It has been 38 years since Johnson last wore a UT uniform, but the memories linger on. Vol fans are like that, appreciating the efforts of those who wore the uniform and played the games.

Don Johnson could play the game.

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Comments » 19

dobber writes:

I wasn't born when he played, but everyone that I talked to that remembers watching him play says he was special, and a class act. Its very sad when someone from our TN family pass'es away, and my prayers go toward his family,and loved ones.

ajwlfw#574737 writes:

I saw Don Johnson play when I was a student at UT way back then. He was a very special player. If the 3 point line had been around then, his average would have been much higher. He had a pretty jump shot and he could hit from about anywhere but the deep corner seemed to be his favorite spot. Great on defense and a tough rebounder- often going against players taller than himself.

BxVol writes:

Very sad to hear of the passing of Don Johnson.The expression" tough hard nosed player" fit Don Johnson.Whatever the team needed, points, a rebound or a stop I saw Don deliver many times.Condolances to his family and friends.

Gustoly writes:

Don Johnson loved the Vols and Coach Ray Mears. He was a nice player who took pride wearing the orange. He was also another, among many, who didn't like Vandy.

He is way too young to leave us.

richvol writes:

Don was a great guy with a sense of humor that was second to none. I got to know him through Lloyd Richardson another former Vol great who was close to him. The stories they use to tell about the team and it's players were really funny. Rest in peace Don.

TommyJack writes:

R.I.P.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

That 66-67 team was a year before I moved from Georgia to Tennessee. It's hard to recall but I think I was a Georgia fan that year...or Ga. Tech.. I missed some good Tennessee teams in hindsight...but I was too young to know better.
Time moves on....

NorthwestVol writes:

I never saw him in person but he was one of my favorites during the Mears years. I remember a game where he played some at center due to fouls. Way undersized. Kept tugging at the opposing center's shorts to distract him.

Best wishes to his family. His memory will live on.

BillVol writes:

How did he die? Hello?

richvol writes:

in response to NorthwestVol:

I never saw him in person but he was one of my favorites during the Mears years. I remember a game where he played some at center due to fouls. Way undersized. Kept tugging at the opposing center's shorts to distract him.

Best wishes to his family. His memory will live on.

I remember that game now that you bring it up...it was great watching him aggravate that poor guy to his wits end. That was Don.

Smokey91 writes:

Don Johnson was one of the better players I ever saw play at UT and I started following the Vols BB team in the mid-60's. It was so much fun watching him with England and Edwards. Not sure if I have ever seen a team put three better shooters on the court at the same time. Yeah, and I remember that huge upset over the number one ranked Gamecocks. My cousin is from Columbia and all he talked about was how they were going to kill us when he came to visit for Thanksgiving. That was a sweet one. Thanks Don, for all you did for the BB program at UT.

Volumnus writes:

I will never forget that season, '69. He was great in 70 & 71 too. A great guy to watch. I am sorry for his passing. I send my condolences to his family.

inkxtn#228006 writes:

Don Johnson was one of my first heroes as I first began following the Vols as a 10 year old! Coach Mears sure knew how to pick'em!!! And Don was one of the best! His toughness in the paint as a rebounder and defensive player would fit well into what Coach Pearl is trying to establish at Tennessee now! How many times I remember hearing John Ward call Johnson's name when it was late in a tough game and you had to have that rebound, loose ball, or big shot! Rest in Peace!!!

Ralph_Crampton writes:

The passing of Don Johnson makes vol fans even sadder...he was a very good player...But as much as we all loved Ray Mears, he only took the Vols to the NCAA one time and lost to Dayton at Dayton in his very first and last game by one point....It is still puzzling why Mears' Team could never get his team into the NCAA more....It seemed he could never recruit enough good players...although he recruited Barnard King, one of the great college and pro players of all time...but for most part he just could not turn the corner on recruiting enough players. However, he was the first coach to compete head-to-head with Adolph Rupps' great Kentucky teams for years he had Rupp's mumber, before Mears became Vols' head coach, Rupp used to comment, "playing teams in the SEC is like kissing your sister". So long Don Johnson, Vol fans will long remember you.

volaholic45 writes:

Can anyone link to a pic of Don Johnson?

mattingly writes:

His obit is at http://www.legacy.com/pjstar/Obituari....

It has a current picture

Smokey91 writes:

in response to Ralph_Crampton:

The passing of Don Johnson makes vol fans even sadder...he was a very good player...But as much as we all loved Ray Mears, he only took the Vols to the NCAA one time and lost to Dayton at Dayton in his very first and last game by one point....It is still puzzling why Mears' Team could never get his team into the NCAA more....It seemed he could never recruit enough good players...although he recruited Barnard King, one of the great college and pro players of all time...but for most part he just could not turn the corner on recruiting enough players. However, he was the first coach to compete head-to-head with Adolph Rupps' great Kentucky teams for years he had Rupp's mumber, before Mears became Vols' head coach, Rupp used to comment, "playing teams in the SEC is like kissing your sister". So long Don Johnson, Vol fans will long remember you.

Hey Ralph, I will tell you one major reason why Ray Mears did not get his teams to the tournament. When he had those great teams with Justus, Hahn, Johnson, Edwards, etc., the NCAA tournament only allowed so many teams in. I think in the late 60's, the only team that was allowed in from the SEC was the championship team, which was almost always Kentucky. When the NCAA started opening up the tournament and allowing more teams in, the Vols started going more often. If the way the NCAA is now was in effect back then, UT would have been an easy in each season. Too bad, cause Ray had some really good shooting teams that were fundamentaly sound in each phase of the game, much more than most teams are today.

leral writes:

in response to volaholic45:

Can anyone link to a pic of Don Johnson?

There is a better picture at

www.knappjohnsonharris.com

leral writes:

Go to www.knappjohnsonharris.com and click Obituaries on the left side. Don Johnson's is the first one and there is a picture of him and a place to sign the guest book.

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