By Sean Lynch
KINGSTON — Three years ago, If you asked Rohan Johnson if he’d be where he is today, he’d probably laugh and say “I wish.”
It’s a combination of wishing and working hard that has helped Johnson achieve his dreams.
He grew up in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Ulster County, stood at a measly 5-foot-6, and was diagnosed with an enlarged heart in tenth grade.
The 2015 Kingston High School graduate defied all odds, and will be heading to Los Angeles, California to help professional basketball trainer Alex Bazzell. It will be an internship to help develop both men & women that are hoping to get drafted into the NBA or WNBA.
Bazzell has worked with players such as Trae Young, Bobby Portis, and Candace Parker.
How He Got Here
Johnson grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens, and moved up to Kingston when he was 10 years-old. He was raised by a single mother and is the oldest of 8 kids. For the majority of his childhood, he lived on Henry Street in Kingston. Henry Street was notorious for crime and one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city.
“You used to hear about lots of crime going through high school,” he recalled. “It was scary. Drug dealers lived on the corner of the street and sometimes you would be afraid to walk home.”
He didn’t want to spend his life behind bars, and turned to basketball as a hobby. Life at the courts kept him away from a life of crime.
Johnson was Kingston’s starting shooting guard for two seasons from 2013-15, averaging 14 points per game in his senior year.
He received interest from several Division III colleges as a walk-on, but an enlarged heart prevented him from playing at the next level.
Many times an enlarged heart is a result from high blood pressure. An enlarged heart may not pump blood effectively, resulting in congestive heart failure. Also known as Cardiomegaly, it may improve over time, but many people with an enlarged heart need lifelong treatment with medications.
“There’s not a lot of every day difficulties,” he said. “If I don’t have enough water in my body, I get pretty tired or sometimes the moisture in the air affects it too, but that’s about it.”
The Start of Lion Heart Basketball
After high school, Johnson attended SUNY Delhi, where he received an Associate in Arts degree. He was the first to attend and graduate college in his family. While he was there, he was the team manager for the men’s basketball team for two seasons. He talked basketball with many of the guys on the team, and they had often asked him for shooting tips. That’s when he first started to train.
“I knew I wanted to stay involved in the game, even if I wasn’t playing,” he added. “I loved the game of basketball itself, and was interested in coaching. A bunch of guys on the team asked for some insight on their game and it turned into some training sessions.”
Following his two years at SUNY Delhi, he transferred to SUNY New Paltz and started his own training program in 2016 called Lion Heart Basketball.
““I chose the name Lion Heart because a lion is a humble beast and the heart represents the love for the game.”
Meeting Alex Bazzell
Bazzell & Johnson had conversations in prior weeks about different training techniques and how to improve as a basketball trainer.
Earlier this month, Bazzell direct-messaged Johnson on Twitter inquiring about if he was interested training in California.
“It was really cool. It was kind of surreal at first, but then when it hit me, it felt awesome to be able to train some of the most-promising basketball players in the world. I’ll be listening and learning a lot about what Alex is doing and hopefully improve my repotoire as a trainer.”
Training Section 9 Stars
He has trained various Section 9 standouts such as Dior Johnson, Brian Moore, Casey Burke, and Grace & Anna VanRoy.
As a freshman, Dior averaged 30.5 points per game in eight games with Saugerties. He has since transferred to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, Nevada.
New Paltz senior Casey Burke was one of the most versatile guards in Section 9 averaging 14 points, 7.5 rebounds & four assists for the Huguenots.
The VanRoy twins led Saugerties to its second consecutive Class A final, and combined for 22 points & 14.5 rebounds.
Kingston senior Brian Moore had one of the best seasons by a Kingston player in recent memory, averaging 27.5 points per game and leading them to its first ever Final Four appearance.
Rohan’s Relationship with Brian Moore
Moore & Rohan have developed more than a trainer-to-peer relationship — they’re like brothers. Johnson was at center-court with tears in his eyes when Moore scored his 1000th career point earlier this season.
“Brian was the first kid I ever trained, and originally, it was two kids that were really shy but dedicated to the game of basketball,” Johnson said. “I knew we had a great connection because he trusted me to help him improve as a player, and I trusted him to be in the gym and work on the stuff we would go over. Brian is like my little brother now. We’re always in the gym together working hard, going to games, and messing around. It’s been amazing watching him progress as a player, teammate and person.”
What Players Say About Rohan:
Grace VanRoy –
“Anna and I have trained with a bunch of different people. Rohan is different because we created a bond outside of basketball, which helped us become more comfortable working with him on new skills that he thought would make us better players. We are close and always excited to see each other no matter where we are. We’re able to joke and talk about college and things like that. He taught me a lot of footwork techniques and improved my shot which helped on the court this season for Saugerties.”
Brian Moore –
“Rohan means a lot to me because I didn’t really have a big-brother-figure to look up to until I met Rohan. He has been working me out since I first moved here two years ago, and plans workouts for me to be successful in games. Outside of basketball he talks to a lot of coaches and respected people in the basketball community about me trying to get my name out there.
Working with some of the best players in the world has been a goal for Rohan — and for what trainer would it not be? But he has a bigger goal in mind:
“I want every kid who is struggling, to try basketball and use it as a positive outlet. There’s too many people on the streets using drugs, committing crimes and they end up in jail. I believe that kids can achieve anything they put their minds to. If they want to become the next Steph Curry, that’s possible. If they want to be the next Michael Jordan, that’s possible too. Anything is possible when you put your mind to something and work hard.”