Mike Strange: Kedren Johnson almost drove Vandy to upset of Vols

Mike Strange
ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee's Brandon Lopez defends against Vanderbilt guard Kedren Johnson as he goes up for a basket in the final seconds at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday.

Photo by Adam Brimer

ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee's Brandon Lopez defends against Vanderbilt guard Kedren Johnson as he goes up for a basket in the final seconds at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday.

When he was a sophomore in high school at Marshall County, Kedren Johnson's first college offer came from Tennessee.

He didn't bite, and five years later a game was in his hands as he drove to the basket in Thompson-Boling Arena to beat the Vols and the buzzer.

He beat the buzzer Tuesday night, but not the Vols.

"We got exactly what we wanted,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "It worked out perfectly, with the exception of the ball going in the basket.''

Johnson's driving shot rimmed off, as did a follow-up tip. Tennessee survived, 58-57.

I suspect the fact that Johnson terrorized the Vols throughout the second half, spearheading a rally from an 11-point deficit, will trigger a re-evaluation of his recruitment among the forums available to UT fans.

Here is a 6-foot-4 sophomore point guard, an in-state product, leading the rival Commodores to the brink of an upset in Thompson-Boling.

Johnson averaged 27.3 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists as a senior at Marshall County, which lies 50 miles south of Nashville toward the Alabama state line. He was Class 2A Mr. Basketball.

Not that UT couldn't use a 6-4 in-state point guard who can score — and had the academic credentials to get into Vandy.

"I don't remember when we offered,'' said Stallings, "sometime in his junior year.

"There were us, these guys (Tennessee), Louisville, Florida, Georgia Tech, Memphis. Lots of people tried.''

UT surely had a foot in the door. Johnson's dad Curtis played baseball at UT in the early 1980s. Marcus Haislip, another Marshall County product who used UT as a springboard to the NBA draft, is a cousin.

Johnson visited Florida, Memphis, UT, Alabama and Louisville. He signed with Vandy in November of his senior year, five months before Cuonzo Martin replaced Bruce Pearl.

"It was a family decision,'' Johnson said. "We was gonna pick whatever was the best fit for me. "Coach Stallings recruited me harder than any other coaches did.''

It's not that Johnson didn't have interest in the Vols. But there were "some things going on.''

In Johnson's junior year, Tyler Smith was kicked off UT's team in midseason. Smith was virtually a neighbor back home in Middle Tennessee.

Then came the NCAA investigation that eventually led to UT firing Pearl — the guy who offered Johnson his first scholarship.

Curtis Johnson, the old Vol baseballer, was insistent on not influencing his son's decision.

"I didn't want him to feel obligated to come to Tennessee because of me,'' said Curtis, who watched the game from behind the Vandy bench.

"I knew Tennessee wasn't going to be down long. They've got a reputation of getting a great coach.''

But in the end, Curtis was pleased his son chose Vanderbilt. Fifty miles isn't much of a drive to watch him play. The Knoxville drive comes only once a year.

Johnson was scoreless in the first half, saddled with two early fouls. The second half was a different story. He scored 14 points, virtually all by getting to the rim.

"That's what got us back in the game,'' said Stallings. "He broke down the defense.''

On Vandy's ultimate possession he broke down the Vols again, powering down the lane with defender Brandon Lopez in lock step. It was a scene played out between the two many times in summer camps, but never for these stakes.

This night, the shot would not go down.

But the saga of Johnson and the Vols isn't over. There will be other games, other shots to come.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 27

martinvol34 writes:

So here is this kid that's in Vandy for academics and sounds straight out of Alabama, unable to use subject/verb agreement. Interesting how he qualified for such a prestigious school.

dvols writes:

upset the vols??? really ?

AllVol1 writes:

Seriously? UT almost gave Vandy a W. Be thankful and move on without criticizing someone's subject-verb agreement. It's petty. Be bigger than that. Represent UT with some dignity. Vols!!

JimmyJoe writes:

Obviously Kendran's dad is not a Vol for life.

AllVol1 writes:

And if you think a father would somehow insist that his son must attend the same university that he attended, then you have some lessons to learn.

SummittsCourt writes:

Almost only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades.

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to dvols:

upset the vols??? really ?

The Vols were 10 point favorites. I don't know why, but they were.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

AGAIN NO OPTION ON THE VIDEOS FOR FULLSCREEN!!?

arkyvol writes:

in response to martinvol34:

So here is this kid that's in Vandy for academics and sounds straight out of Alabama, unable to use subject/verb agreement. Interesting how he qualified for such a prestigious school.

are you suggesting that he'd be a more natural fit with the vols? considering the attitude of some of the posters toward academics, i'd have to concede the point. (btw, it should be '...kid who is...")

easleychuck writes:

Johnson made his decision. Hope he and his father enjoy his college career. That being said he plays for the enemy and I am glad that he short-armed a point blank shot at the buzzer.

He and his dad are now sailors for life. Ugly win but, in the overall scheme of things, it looks just fine in the win column.

BrassMonkey writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

Obviously Kendran's dad is not a Vol for life.

The Vol For Life garbage is so overused. Is it really unbelievable that a father would support his son's decision to play sports where he felt most comfortable?

utclyde16 writes:

I respect what Kendran's dad did. I did the same for my daughter and I have no regrets where she played ball at. She and myself both are still big UT fans.

VolFanInTheBoro (Inactive) writes:

in response to BrassMonkey:

The Vol For Life garbage is so overused. Is it really unbelievable that a father would support his son's decision to play sports where he felt most comfortable?

Your garbage is also overused

VolMoment writes:

The problem I have about the announcers and Vandy recruiters is they talk about Vandy's high Academics but old guys remember when the SEC let Vandy athletes go to Peabody college for easy courses. Then Vanderbilt bought Peabody and rolled all their courses into Vanderbilt. I saw a lady on Nashville news lead in a couple of years ago who was there to talk about a little unknown fact. Then when they did the story she talked about her daughter is now enrolled in Vanderbilt after not eligible to enroll at The University of Tennessee.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

UT seems to choke at the FT line down the stretch...not good.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

I actually enjoyed listening to our win last night. To be honest I'm sorta glad I didn't have to watch the last few seconds live.

Great win. GBO

johnlg00 writes:

I remember when Johnson was being recruited. I got the impression then that Vandy was recruiting him harder than UT was. No doubt things looked a bit unsettled at UT at a critical time. I hope CCM is looking at the young in-state players early enough to get in on the ground floor with guys who could help. There may not be enough in-state kids to win in the SEC in football, but there are a number of good basketball players in the state every year, even if you exclude the largely untouchable Memphis guys.

Vandy will clearly get better. They have some good young players who are already on the verge of being VERY good SEC players. At least one other guy besides Johnson has that classic outside shooting stroke and the young big man has great offensive skills for a freshman. They don't seem to get intimidated easily, either. The Vols were lucky to get that win. They will have to do MUCH better to win in Nashville.

KevDVol writes:

Someone, providing help defense, reached in to briefly grab the ball as Johnson drove to the hole. I believe it was that help defense, along with decent pressure from Lopez, that contributed to the miss. No excuse for not boxing out on the miss or missing late free throws. But a win is a win.

On a side note, enough with the "get Bruce back" cries. He had minor violations but then lied to the NCAA and to UT Administration. The majority of his best players were signed by Buzz Peterson and the players that Bruce left us with certainly are not world beaters. He was a good coach, a great entertainer and motivator but he ruined what he created. We must move on.

smokeygrowl writes:

As a parent you should disown any kid who elects to go to Vanderbilt,Kentucky,Florida, or Alabama.

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor believe parents involved at the time had red flags to what was going on. Witch Doctor say we had Selby and Craft saw this and quickly ran away. Witch Doctor not hate any kid that chooses whats best for him. Witch Doctor say Martin has laid a foundation and next season we will see the fruits of that. Witch Doctor not like losing but without your best player from last season giving help..we even half azzed announcers and other fans see it but our resident sports board coaches know better..Witch Doctor say there ya go....(plus getting easy to see most are "hurt-feelings" Vandy fans and they cant even troll and get that right. lol
Bones never lie.

wigmeister writes:

in response to KevDVol:

Someone, providing help defense, reached in to briefly grab the ball as Johnson drove to the hole. I believe it was that help defense, along with decent pressure from Lopez, that contributed to the miss. No excuse for not boxing out on the miss or missing late free throws. But a win is a win.

On a side note, enough with the "get Bruce back" cries. He had minor violations but then lied to the NCAA and to UT Administration. The majority of his best players were signed by Buzz Peterson and the players that Bruce left us with certainly are not world beaters. He was a good coach, a great entertainer and motivator but he ruined what he created. We must move on.

Enjoyed watching Bruce basketball. Agree with the fact he didn't bring in shooters. He brought in athletes, not shooters, and we are paying the price now. Unfortunately, CCM has not recruited shooters either. Bruce ball was much more fun to watch than CCM ball. Bruce will not be brought back. Forgive and forget will not be part of the administrative leanings. Too many good instate players are ignored by UT, in all sports! Can't be hard to find excellent shooters somewhere in the eastern 2/3 of the country! A couple of pure shooters would meld in perfectly with the current players going forward. Need to recruit players that can come off the bench and give you instant offense.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Witch_Doctors:

Witch Doctor believe parents involved at the time had red flags to what was going on. Witch Doctor say we had Selby and Craft saw this and quickly ran away. Witch Doctor not hate any kid that chooses whats best for him. Witch Doctor say Martin has laid a foundation and next season we will see the fruits of that. Witch Doctor not like losing but without your best player from last season giving help..we even half azzed announcers and other fans see it but our resident sports board coaches know better..Witch Doctor say there ya go....(plus getting easy to see most are "hurt-feelings" Vandy fans and they cant even troll and get that right. lol
Bones never lie.

Selby wanted very much to come to Tennessee. World Wide Wes very much wanted him to go somewhere else. Enter Selby's mom, Kansas, and a nice Benz. And from that point in time all things UT basketball unraveled.

Witch_Doctors writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Selby wanted very much to come to Tennessee. World Wide Wes very much wanted him to go somewhere else. Enter Selby's mom, Kansas, and a nice Benz. And from that point in time all things UT basketball unraveled.

Witch Doctor believs Wes will bring down a few programs before his time is done. Witch Doctor also believe the forces that be was just waiting for Pearl to do anything wrong and then he gave them his own head on a platter. Witch Doctor say someday someone will make a fortune off a book that studies this..lol
Bones never lie.

1vavolfan writes:

Nice story, can't blame the kid for staying home, especially with all of the turmoil in the UT hoops program at the time. Johnson handled himself in a classy manner last night.

thevoice writes:

"We was gonna pick whatever was the best fit for me."

Looks like Vandy has the same entrance requirements as other schools.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I remember when Johnson was being recruited. I got the impression then that Vandy was recruiting him harder than UT was. No doubt things looked a bit unsettled at UT at a critical time. I hope CCM is looking at the young in-state players early enough to get in on the ground floor with guys who could help. There may not be enough in-state kids to win in the SEC in football, but there are a number of good basketball players in the state every year, even if you exclude the largely untouchable Memphis guys.

Vandy will clearly get better. They have some good young players who are already on the verge of being VERY good SEC players. At least one other guy besides Johnson has that classic outside shooting stroke and the young big man has great offensive skills for a freshman. They don't seem to get intimidated easily, either. The Vols were lucky to get that win. They will have to do MUCH better to win in Nashville.

Sorry, I discovered after I posted this that Vandy's big guy is a soph. I just know that I didn't see him on the floor last year when they had all those experienced big guys.

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

Obviously Kendran's dad is not a Vol for life.

Same goes for majors, Fulmer , Chavis, Sanders, Chuck Smith... no wait UT stuck a knife in those Vols for life. VFL is a joke..

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