SEMO hoops land big man that 'can really run when he wants to'

Southeast Missouri State junior center Nate Johnson

When Southeast Missouri State assistant men’s basketball coach Dustin Yoder was hired, he got to work in building the Redhawks very quickly.

“What I wake up every day thinking about is ‘Who is going to play (center) for us next year,’” Yoder said after being a Redhawk for just a couple of days.

As it turned out, Yoder had an athlete in mind right from the start.

Seminole State College (Oklahoma) center Nate Johnson recently signed with Southeast after a productive season with the Trojans and believing in Yoder’s sales pitch – twice.

Yoder had served the previous two seasons at NCAA Division II Cal State San Bernardino and he signed Johnson to play for the Coyotes following this season. However, when Yoder was hired by Southeast, he convinced Johnson to make a detour east and come to Cape Girardeau instead.

Seminole coach Don Tuley has been paid to coach basketball for 42 years. He has worked with more players than he can remember and he had a lot of positive things to say about his starting center.

“He’s a real good low post player,” Tuley said. “And he can really run. He’s one of those kids that doesn’t like to run, but he can really run when he wants to.”

Tuley cited Johnson’s “knowledge of the game and his passing skills” as strengths, and that knowledge showed at the defensive end of the court, according to the coach.

“He’s good from block to block,” Tuley said of Johnson’s defense. “He’s not a big-time jumper, but he jumps well enough he can explode up and dunk the ball. But he definitely can be a real good defender because he is very smart.”

Johnson is also very big.

Southeast has Johnson listed at 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds, and Tuley called his former player “a load.”

Johnson played at 235 pounds this past season, but Tuley thinks he still needs to drop down to “around 225 and be all muscle.”

“He needs to work on his body some more,” Tuley said of Johnson’s immediate focus.

Johnson started 30 games at Seminole and scored in double figures in 23 of them. He finished the season averaging 12 points per game.

As a rebounder, Johnson also filled the stat sheet.

He averaged nine rebounds per game and pulled down at least nine boards in 20 games.

“He was a transfer and came in here with a good work ethic,” Tuley said. “I think he wants to get better and he’s got a chance to make himself some money overseas.”

Johnson is a Miami native and spent one season at St. Petersburg College, where he averaged six points and five boards per game as a freshman.

He is only 20 years old and Tuley thinks he has “a lot of upside.”

Johnson can face the basket, but Tuley thinks he still needs development in that area. But the coach acknowledged that Johnson can do some damage with his passing and “has a lot better foot speed than what he lets on. He can fool you,” Tuley said.

Johnson will have two seasons of eligibility and is going to have competition this fall because the Redhawks return senior Darrious Agnew (6-foot-9, 220 pounds) and recently signed Cal Poly graduate transfer Nolan Taylor (6-foot-7, 260 pounds).

“He’s a real good low-post guy from block to block,” Tuley said.

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