As he signed on the dotted line with many of his family and friends watching, Malone star guard Antwain Johnson knew he made the correct choice.
The most prolific high school basketball scorer this season in Jackson County is staying home for two more years.
Johnson officially signed his National Letter of Intent with nearby Chipola College on Wednesday inside the Tigers’ gym.
Decked out in a blue Chipola cap and polo shirt, Johnson flashed a grin when explaining how surreal it is to be an Indian.
“I wish I could play right now. I feel a lot of adrenaline,” Johnson said. “It’s just a good feeling with everybody coming out here and being a part of my signing. It feels like just yesterday I was running in the locker room seeing my older cousins play [for Malone] and now I’m signing today.”
Johnson was courted by schools such as Troy, Chattanooga State, Gulf Coast State and Northwest Florida State before deciding on Chipola.
The 6-foot-2 Johnson, who averaged 29 points per game last season for Malone, was already dual-enrolled at Chipola this year. Johnson led Malone to the state title in 2014 and to the state tournament again this year before falling in the semifinals to Chipley.
Johnson scored a career-high 43 points in the district semifinals vs. Laurel Hill and a game-high 41 in the state semifinals against Chipley.
Johnson swiftly picked Chipola because of his instant comfort level with new head coach Bret Campbell, whom he says reminds him of Malone head coach Steven Welch.
It also didn’t hurt that Chipola is a mere 15 miles away from Malone.
“I just hope it’s just like home. It should be,” Johnson said. “It’s nice because all these people here, I know they love me a lot and I’ve got a lot of love for them,” Johnson said. “It’s just going to be nice to be able to feel at home and still have their support.”
From his first day on the job, Campbell made Johnson his main priority. Hours after being introduced as the new coach, Campbell made his way to meet Johnson.
“Number one thing I was told when I came to Chipola was that this young man can really play basketball and was very talented and was a great person,” Campbell said. “We put a lot of effort into him. I think we both felt very comfortable with each other and believed it was a good opportunity for him to come to Chipola and help us out.”
Campbell was impressed with Johnson’s versatility and much like at Malone envisions utilizing him as both a point guard and shooting guard.
“I always felt like I’m a combo guard,” Johnson said. “I feel like that wouldn’t even be a problem because I’ve always felt good at either the one or the two because that’s what I had to play here.”
Malone holds a special place in Johnson’s heart. The special bond between Johnson and Welch has been cultivated for quite some time. It’s what makes Welch beam with joy whenever he’s asked about Johnson.
“I remember when he was in first or second grade he would come in our locker room during halftimes. It’s just been that kind of relationship. I’ve known him forever,” Welch said. “Just to see what a fine young man he’s turned into and to have an opportunity at the next level, I couldn’t be more excited for him.”
Welch and Antwain’s father Doug Johnson were a part of Malone’s 1991 state championship team, but the elder Johnson was more speechless over his son’s most recent accomplishment.
“Man, I can’t even put it into words. It’s real. It didn’t hit me until this morning,” Doug Johnson said. “My baby boy is graduating. I’m just extremely proud of him. It’s like a win-win because Chipola is a good program and it’s an added bonus that they’re close so we’ll be able to watch him play for the next couple of years.”
For as long as he’s played basketball, Johnson has prided himself on being a winner. Now that he’s an Indian, Johnson is eager to use his talent on the court and leadership off it to elevate Chipola back to its status as a national contender.
“I’ve always been a part of a winning program. I just feel like winning is something that’s just meant for me,” Johnson said. “So I feel like we’re going to turn it around really fast.”