When he arrived from North Carolina as a sophomore, Johnson joined a Cumberland squad coming off a 2-22 season in 2005. The Redskins improved to 9-14 in Johnson’s first season, followed by a 21-11 campaign in 2007 that included an All “A” Classic regional title.
Cumberland finished 20-9 this season and made its second straight trip to the 13th Region Tournament. Johnson, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, led the way, averaging 14.7 points and 14 rebounds in earning player of the year honors on the 23rd annual Harlan Daily Enterprise all-county basketball team.
“He’s done whatever we’ve asked him to do. He can rebound, score, handle the ball and play defense,” Cumberland coach Jerry Edwards said. “He’s a total team player.”
Johnson was joined by three senior teammates on the all-county squad selected by county coaches.
Garfield Wilson, a 6-4 senior center, averaged 13.8 points and 9.5 rebounds in his first and only season with the Redskins after also transferring from North Carolina.
“He came in and provided great inside play as far as rebounding and scoring,” Edwards said. “He stopped teams from double-teaming Desmond. They complemented each other real well.”
Point guard Brock Leisge, who averaged 11.8 points, was the defensive ace for the Redskins and also directed the offense.
“Brock would usually draw the toughest defensive assignment, and he was also great in getting us in our offensive sets,” Edwards said. “He also had some big baskets and free throws down the stretch when we needed them.”
Brooks Hogue, who could play either guard or forward and averaged 9.6 points, provided all the intangibles that are crucial for winning teams, whether it was a clutch shot, rebound or defensive stop.
“He was the sparkplug for the engine that made us go,” Edwards said. “Whatever needed to be done, Brooks was there to do it. He gave us 110 percent any time he was on the floor.”
Edwards edged Cawood’s Anthony Nolan as the coach of the year after leading Cumberland to back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since stringing together four straight from 1982 to 1985.
“It goes back to the hard work and determination of the kids and my two assistant coaches, Derrick Akal and Greg Creech,” Edwards said. “They worked hard to get us where we are over the three years. They worked hard beginning in the summer all the way through.
“It’s great to go out on top. I wish we could have done more, but we sort of brought the community back into it. We had a big following no matter where we played. You hate to see it close out, but we’re closing it out on a high note.”
Senior guard Adam Rhymer leads the Cawood contingent on the all-county team as he averaged 17.2 points, saving his best for last with a 36-point performance in a loss to Bell County in the 52nd District Tournament. Rhymer was also the final member of the school’s 1,000-point club.
“Adam was a consistent scorer for us all year, and he did a good job of directing the team,” Nolan said. “We tried to avoid moving him to the point position early, but he responded when we did. His point production went up and our turnovers went down when we did that.”
Junior center Josh Caldwell was also selected to the all-county team for the second straight year despite missing much of the season with a knee injury. Caldwell, who averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds a game, will be counted on to play a big role on the first Harlan County High School team next fall.
“I thought he had really matured into a physical presence,” Nolan said. “He was a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams and helped give us balance on the court. When we lost him, we had to go back and change our whole offense.”
Senior Brad Howard, who moved from forward to center after Caldwell's injury, was also an all-county selection after averaging 5.5 points. Howard played extremely down the stretch, scoring 17 against Evarts and 18 against Knox Central in February.
“Brad wasn’t the leader by talent, but he was mentally tough,” Nolan said. “He played so hard for us and got the most out of his ability. We modified the offense and kind of ran it through him. He was kind of a point-center the way he distributed the ball.”
Brandon McCoun, a wiry 6-5 sophomore forward who scored 8 points a game, rounds out the Cawood contingent.
“He’s got good size and has a nose for the ball and is most dangerous when he’s around the offensive glass. He actually drew chasers sometimes just to keep him from being around the offensive glass,” Nolan said. “He’s also capable of hitting the outside shot and has a tremendous upside if he can develop some strength in the offseason.”
Sophomore guard Jecorey Fields represents Harlan on the all-county squad. He averaged 8.6 points for the 6-22 Green Dragons, who were the runners-up in the regional All “A” Classic.
“He really picked us up and carried us in a couple of those All ‘A’ games the way he shot the ball,” Harlan coach Casey Lester said. “I thought he improved throughout the year. I thought we sort of played him out of position at the point, and that’s one thing we’re hoping to do next year is move him back to the wing.”
Junior guard Allen Hensley was the other Harlan selection, scoring 8 points a game while serving as the team’s defensive stopper.
“He always guarded the other team’s best player, and I felt late in the year became one of the better defenders in the region,” Lester said. “He is one of those kids who does a lot of the dirty work for us.”
Evarts, which finished 3-22, was represented on the all-county team by senior guard Travis Helton and junior guard R.J. Fields.
Helton averaged 6.5 points, but his greatest contributions often didn’t show up in the scoring statistics.
“He’s the only kid I’ve seen hit double-doubles when points aren’t involved,” Evarts coach Jerry Ford said. “He wasn’t a great scorer, but he handled the ball against pressure, got the ball to his teammates and battled on the boards against bigger people.”
Fields was the Wildcats’ most consistent offensive threat, averaging 12.7 points in his first year as a starter.
“R.J. had a big year for us offensively,” Ford said. “He could get a shot when he wanted to and had some big games.”