Jerardi: Like his dad, B.J. Johnson is a good fit at La Salle

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La Salle guard/forward B.J. Johnson (left) with his father and former La Salle guard Bob Johnson

B.J. JOHNSON plays basketball with a stone face and great skill. Bobby Johnson watches his son without a stone face and, sometimes, loudly.

The father was a fearless, three-point shooting killer sixth man for the only La Salle team to win 30 games and the last La Salle team to go unbeaten in the Big 5. In fact, it was Bobby's eight threes at Saint Joseph's on Feb. 12, 1990, that brought the Explorers from behind to a 93-76 win that clinched the City Series that season.

How many times has Bobby told B.J. about those eight threes?

"Too many," B.J. said with a smile.

Now, 27 years later, Bobby does not miss a game at Gola Arena. His son is the leading scorer for his alma mater, four years after leading Lower Merion to the PIAA AAAA title, ending Chester's legendary 78-game in-state win streak in the championship game.

Bobby has an opinion about everything and is never shy about sharing it, even loudly during games his son is playing. He was an occasional wild man during Lower Merion games, as wild during summer league.

"B.J. told me to calm down (after a recent La Salle game)," Johnson acknowledged while sitting behind the La Salle bench as the Explorers were beating George Washington on Jan. 15. "But I've still got to give him some encouragement."

B.J. spent two seasons at Syracuse, but it just wasn't the right fit.

"I drove up to Syracuse for every game, even though he was sitting on the bench for two years," Bobby said Once B.J. made decided to transfer, it was just a question of which city school.

"I was going to come somewhere around home," B.J. said. "The day after my transcript got released, 'Coach G' flew up to Syracuse and he was knocking on my door and he was talking to me. I took my visit and the guys told me he's honest, whatever he tells you, that's what he's going to do. It was a match from there."

"Coach G" is La Salle coach John Giannini. As B.J. sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, Giannini was never shy about extolling the virtues of Johnson and two other transfers, all of whom are now starting for a team that was very hot until a total meltdown Sunday at VCU.

Before Sunday, Johnson was averaging 18.6 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting 49.2 percent overall, 40.7 percent from three and 86.1 percent from the free throw line. He did not make a shot against VCU. His teammates didn't make many.

That was one bad day. The transfer has worked out just as father and son hoped.

"The ability to get on the floor and play comfortably, play through mistakes and things of that nature," Bobby said of the decision. "Understanding the college business. It is a business. Like I told B.J., we have Plan B in place.

"As a parent, I always thought he was a great person and player. Just watching him play and coaching him from the age of 4, I know he has the ability. I just try to encourage him to stay with it."

When B.J. got two fouls six minutes into the GW game and went to the bench, Bobby said: "You're not going to sit him the whole half?"

In fact, that was it for B.J. in the first half. It was not because the coach did not want to play him. Circumstances dictated the decision. Bobby was just reacting like a parent who wants to see his son play.

"I have to sometimes calm down a little bit and let him go out and do the things that he was taught and have faith that he's going to get it done," Bobby said. "He hasn't let us down yet. This is a very proud moment to see him playing and wearing my number, No. 20, and representing the school and his family well."

By his standards, Bobby was on his best behavior against GW. Decked out in a La Salle sweatshirt with a La Salle baseball cap on backward, Bobby even liked a missed B.J. dunk.

"Way to go hard," he said.

With the huddle nearby, Bobby said, "Let's go to work, B."

Moments later, La Salle with the ball, he yelled, "Cut, B, cut."

"He did pretty good today," B.J. said with a smile after the game. "He wasn't too loud. Sometimes, I just tune it out. When I'm on the court, I'm just focused."

Bobby just can't help himself, but the son knows the father means well.

"That's just who he is," B.J. said.

During the game, Doug Overton, the point guard on that 30-2 team, stopped by. The next generation is now playing in the city. Doug's son Miles is at Drexel, where he played against La Salle and B.J. on Nov. 27.

"We can't be prouder of our boys, our young men at this point," Bobby said.

When La Salle won at Rhode Island on Jan. 12 in its most impressive performance of the season, Bobby watched it at La Salle and Southern High teammate Lionel Simmons' Center City house. They were whooping it up pretty good and reminded each other that when they went up I-95, they almost never lost.

Unlike his dad, B.J. lets the game happen. He does not hunt shots.

"He doesn't have your mindset," Simmons told Bobby.

"Even I swung it now and then," Bobby said.

What does B.J. know about the La Salle teams from back in the day?

"He just brings up things they did and why there were so good and how good of a scorer he was," B.J. said of his father.

Asked about the best part of his game, B.J. said: "I think I'm a mismatch. Put a guard on me, I'm too big, but you put a bigger guy on my, they're usually too slow. Just my versatility."

B.J. has another season at La Salle after this one and a father who could not be more pleased to see his son playing so well and where he is doing it.

"It's very exciting, but also nerve-wracking," Bobby said. "I think I'm just as pumped as he is as a player. As a parent, it's a little different. I can't yell and do the things as a former player or as a fan, so I have to be conscious that the other players are part of the team, as well."

Bobby lives in Landsdowne and works at a men's shelter. He has worked in Philadelphia Social Services for 20-plus years.

"Try to help people out," he said.

Bobby was B.J.'s first coach. He wanted to help his son then, help him now. He is not hard to spot or hear at La Salle games. You won't hear the son, but you will see him, playing controlled, efficient and effective basketball, just as his father taught him.

jerardd@phillynews.com

@DickJerardi