Science Hill and Milligan College are playing basketball this season on new hardwood, and a good family tree has been ingrained in each court’s foundation.
Milligan senior guard Johneshia Good was the Appalachian Athletic Conference co-player of the year after leading Milligan to a regular season title. Her oldest brother, C.J., a Science Hill senior, has been the Big Eight Conference’s premier shooting guard during a season in which he’s gone far beyond 300 career 3-pointers (first all-time among Hilltoppers) and 1,700 career points. And their brother, Patrick, has been the league’s most promising freshman.
C.J., the Johnson City Press 2012 Northeast Tennessee Player of the Year, has had the thankless task of playing on a team with his father on the coaching staff for four years, but he’s surely turned any potential haters into appreciators while constantly improving his game during four years of dedication which has made him one of the most prolific ’Toppers.
But working on basketball, as the Goods’ parents John and Tracy can attest, has been a labor of love for brothers, sister and dad. Whether playing at the church down the street from their grandmother’s in Orlando during summer visits or getting to Science Hill at 6:15 a.m. to begin the day with string music, the Goods have raised their games side by side.
“It used to be me and Patrick against Johneshia when we were, like, real little,” C.J. said. “And she used to beat us all the time. And then finally, me and Patrick started beating her. That’s when she quit playing with us.
“Me and Patrick have always played one on one. It kind of helps us both as competitors. You know, there’s no better feeling in the world than beating your brother.”
The three years is not your usual age gap when Patrick’s involved. He’s average-sized thus far and certainly wasn’t sporting a beard or anything, but Michael Jordan’s brother, Larry, wanted to see Patrick’s birth certificate when he was playing for the Tennessee Chosen Few in an AAU 13-under showcase in Charlotte in 2010.
“They said a 12-year-old shouldn’t have been able to handle the ball and see the floor like that,” John said.
Damon Johnson, who worked with the Chosen Few, played on a Science Hill state championship team in 1990 and started at Tennessee before playing a decade in Europe.
“Patrick, to me, is an old-school Carver kid,” Johnson said. “What I mean is when we used to play down at Carver Rec there was a certain mentality we all had, and that was we hate to lose. We would fight, cheat and draw blood before we lost a game. We played with our heart and he does that.
“The bigger the challenge the better he will play if he has the right coach pushing him. He is not a kid you have to jump all over all the time. He responds well to positive reinforcement.”
Patrick responded well to adversity last week with Science Hill’s postseason on the line in the regional semifinals against Jefferson County. He missed a 3-pointer with roughly 100 seconds left in a tie game, but then sprinted into the frontcourt for a steal and capped an 85-second possession with a game-winning free throw with 5.9 seconds left.
“I thought ‘Uh oh, freshman mistake,’” Johneshia said while recalling Patrick’s 3-point miss. “But he got back on defense and got the ball back. … My heart was racing (when he was at the foul line).”
Patrick is a natural-born point guard. He hits back-cutters in stride with waist-high bounce passes, feeds spot-up shooters on the wings with chest-high passes and wows fans with flashy assists such as the behind-the-back bounce-pass that led to a fast-break basket for C.J. in regional quarterfinal win against South-Doyle.
“When we play pickup he kind of does that,” C.J. said, “and sometimes he throws over the head and stuff. We just have a good connection out there.”
Similar instinctive assists have gone from C.J. to Patrick too, such as when C.J. came up with a loose ball and threw a lob ahead into an empty frontcourt that a dashing Patrick quickly ran down for a lay-in.
Patrick has had multiple games with double-digit assists. Of course, C.J. helps ’Toppers assist averages. Even a casual fan can appreciate how quickly C.J. shoots a 3-pointer after the catch. It’s hard to even describe it as a catch, because the ball’s in out of his hands in the blink of an eye.
He works on squaring up his shoulders and feet while a pass is in the air to minimize catch-and-release time. Yet, he’s amazingly accurate, especially considering the transfer time.
But C.J. does some of his best work without the ball in his hands, moving tirelessly with precision while using screens like a surgeon to remove defenders instructed to shadow him, and a sliver of daylight is all he needs. He has a mid-range game too, perhaps best exemplified by how he’s twice dribbled coast to coast as far as the clock would allow before beating the buzzer at the end of quarters with 15-foot pull-ups.
“Hard work pays off, and I’m not saying that because he’s my brother,” Johneshia said. “He’s in the gym every single day. … I’m beyond proud of them for their dedication. Not many people are gonna get out of bed that early (for 6:15 a.m. workouts).”
C.J. has won a tournament in a Hawaii and made clutch baskets in a state tournament victory in Murfreesboro, but having the family together for a tournament in the Bahamas earlier this season was hard to beat.
“I think the Bahamas was probably the best trip, because my mom and my sister also went with us,” he said. “So we had a lot of family time and then we got to play basketball on top of that.”
John played at Science Hill on George Pitts’ first team in 1984-85. He also coached one year for Pitts at King College (2007-08). He spent seven years prior to that at Science Hill under Mike Poe and Ken Cutlip, where he’s now in his fifth season since returning to Cutlip’s bench.
“The thing about John — the first thing I would say — is he’s got an amazing family,” Pitts said. “They are so close and they are so supportive of each other. It’s something he’s proud of and cherishes. They are tight.”
John isn’t your prototypical sports father. He’s living with his children instead of through them. In fact, he didn’t coach his children in youth leagues. John and his sons and daughter all fondly recall family pickup games in Florida.
“At the end of the street there was a goal,” Patrick said. “We’d go up there and try and whoop up on dad a little bit, but it never worked.”
John will tell you he’s still undefeated in Florida, although his game is now better suited for HORSE than “21.”
John likes to quote Abraham Lincoln when discussing preparation and improvement: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.” Gym work has only whetted the appetite of his offspring.
“They’d start out working from maybe 8-10 feet, as far out as they showed good form,” John said. “They do all the work. I just rebound and pass. …
“Sometimes you get what you deserve and sometimes you get more than you deserve. But if you work hard, good things happen.”
Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip has often commended John’s work on the bench during games, as well as scouting opponents. But he’s just as impressed with John’s parental skills.
“I really admire him for the way he’s able to handle … being the coach to his kids during practice and games,” Cutlip said, “and then being able to change regardless of what’s went on in practice and games and still be the dad. And that’s the most important part. When it’s time to be a father he is the ultimate father, in my opinion. … I’ve learned a lot of lessons just from being around him and seeing how he’s handled that situation and handled his kids.
“The one thing I’ve known about John from day one is that he cares about this program and this team. When we step on the floor, anything that’s done, he does it with the best interest of the team. … It is a difficult situation for all parties involved, but I think with the way John handles it and C.J. and Patrick handle it, it’s about as smooth of a situation as it could be with all their teammates and everything else. That’s a tricky thing to navigate sometimes.”
The Goods have also benefitted on and off the court from their mother, Tracy, who grew up in a basketball family. Her late brother, Andrel, scored 1,150 points for Pitts’ Hilltoppers (class of ’88). Her second cousin, Gary Carter, scored 1,625 points for Elvin Little at Science Hill (class of 1978) and 1,199 points for Don DeVoe at Tennessee.
“I still think he’s the best player ever at Science Hill,” John said.
Tracy played for Dwight “Greasy” Leonard at Science Hill (class of ’90). Her favorite memories include sitting beside statistician/assistant coach Callie Redd on the bench after Tracy would switch seats when Leonard told her to get ready to go in the game. Those stays beside Redd could be extensive for a sophomore on a team with the likes of Leah Jackson, but time flew while beside the witty, loving Redd.
Leonard, who coached eight of his 24 seasons at Science Hill and is now in his second season of retirement in Melbourne, Fla., said Tracy became a key factor in many victories.
“Tracy was really quick and a good defensive player,” Leonard said. “She was a shut-down type of defensive player. You could put her on a good guard. Tracy really played hard.”
Now an animated fan, it’s easy to envision Tracy’s tenacity on the court.
“I think we get basketball from dad,” Patrick said, “but we get some toughness from mom.”
Tracy’s special season has included seeing Andrel’s children, Alex and Andrel (A.J.), play well for Dobyns-Bennett.
“I just miss him and wish he was here,” she said, “but because he’s not, I’ve really enjoyed his kids.”
This exceptional season has produced much reflection for Tracy. Johneshia soon will conclude basketball and likely begin a nursing career.
Johneshia’s basketball skills didn’t exactly explode — or even move — from the starter’s block. Tracy recalls her daughter playing youth league for Doug Fritz, and Fritz telling Johneshia to go stand on the block.
“Well, that’s all she did,” Tracy said, chuckling at the image of her young daughter standing statuesquely near the basket. “So I was like, ‘John, maybe this is not for her.’ But as time went along she seemed to enjoy it.”
Indeed. Johneshia was the Northeast Tennessee Player of the Year in 2009. She scored 30 points despite flu-like symptoms in a 75-62 win against Dobyns-Bennett in February of 2009, a victory that avenged a 61-32 loss in Kingsport.
She was district tournament MVP as a junior after scoring 18 points, including two free throws with 16.9 seconds left that helped the Lady ‘Toppers dig out of a 42-32 hole for a 50-47 defeat of D-B and Science Hill’s first district title in 14 years.
Johneshia initially signed with East Tennessee State, and has surpassed 1,000 points at Milligan in three seasons.
“Johneshia has made so many important contributions to our team’s success all season,” Milligan coach Rich Aubrey said. “She leads our teams in assists and 3-point shooting. She has been a great perimeter defender all year.”
Her scoring snowballed as the Lady Buffs rolled toward a title.
“She has exploded on the offensive end,” Aubrey said. “She scored 32 against Virginia Intermont back in January. She had 25 in a big road win at Reinhardt. … In a showdown for first place played at Tennessee Wesleyan, she scored 23. That may have been her biggest performance yet.”
Her brothers were there for the big moments.
“She was excited (with 1,000 points),” C.J. said, “but what she was most excited about was that she finally beat Tennessee Wesleyan, because they hadn’t done that in her career at Milligan. She’s just really been enjoying herself. I think she realizes it’s her last year and she needs to have the most fun.”
Johneshia, like her brothers, gets it done in the classroom, too.
“She was an Academic All-American last year,” Aubrey said. “We anticipate she will earn that honor again this year.”
As much as she enjoys watching her kids play basketball, their grades are more gratifying for Tracy, who teaches first grade at Cherokee.
“I am most proud of them for doing well academically,” Tracy said. “I’ve always told them each year, ‘If you don’t want to play basketball you don’t have to play. I’m gonna love you regardless of whether you play or not.’”
Former Lady ‘Toppers teammate Jaimee Hill helped make Johneshia’s decision to transfer to Milligan academic. In fact, Hill might’ve been Aubrey’s key recruiter.
“She’s one of the major reasons I’m at Milligan,” Good said. “She was like, ‘I’d love to finish my career out with you.’”
They’ll finish their career at the NAIA nationals beginning Thursday in Sioux City, Iowa. Tracy and Hill’s mother, Sarah, will be among the Milligan supporters in attendance. And if Science Hill beats Maryville in the sectional tonight, Iowa will be followed by a second straight trip to Murfreesboro for the state tournament next week.
“I’m thankful John’s had the opportunity to coach Patrick and C.J. on the same team,” Tracy said. “To have them all be successful in one year, it’s been special to us … but it’s not something that we harp on.
“I am very humbled, and when I think about it I get emotional. I thank God for the opportunity that he has given them.”
Opportunity will continue to knock. John had coaching interest from schools after last season, and that’s only expected to increase this spring.
“A lot of coaches are good on the court or off the court,” Pitts said. “John was good at both. He knows his Xs and Os, and how to communicate to his kids. When he left I didn’t want to lose him, but I knew it was his best move.
“I think John is going to be an outstanding head coach. I think he’s ready now. If the right situation developed, he’d have to think long and hard about it. … I know he’ll do what’s best for his family.”