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Next Man(I) Up!

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

I have been a fan of Kamani Johnson since he came to Arkansas, and for a variety of reasons.

It easy to be impressed with Kamani’s basketball abilities. He is an obviously hard worker, and his pre-Razorback resume’ is littered with honors he earned at UALR in the SunBelt Conference. You can watch him on the court and see his work ethic on display at each game.

The part I admire most, though, is also on display, albeit more subtly. That is his attitude.

For me, Kamani personifies what it means to be a team player, and a teammate.

Kamani is not one of our routine starters. He may be the seventh, or even eighth, man off the bench. And he has what is, to me, the unenviable task of having to always be ready to play. And not just be on the court but be And to those that are involved in sports, you know that can actually be the hardest position to be in. You must prepare like a starter and work like a starter, but you may not play at all. Think about a pinch hitter in baseball. They may go entire games without ever swinging a bat but when their number is called, ala Charlie Welch a couple of seasons ago, production is the expectation. May not always be a grand slam or a home run, but the coach believes you can come off the bench and do the job, and you have to do it.

Need a strong defender, Kamani’s your man. Need a solid rebounder, put in #20.

Just look at his stats for the Maui Invitational - in 19 minutes he executed 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 free throws and a total of 7points; and remember, he didn’t even play one second in the first two rounds. But when Coach Muss needed him, Mani delivered. But without his play, Arkansas loses in the third game and goes home in fourth place. It was his rebound and follow up that tied that game and allowed Arkansas to play on and eventually win, a win sealed up with his two free throws at the end of overtime.

Let’s also look, though, at his leadership. Both on and off the court, he is a quiet presence with a large smile and a big brother approach to his teammates. He never makes mention of not starting, he talks about doing what needs to be done to help his team, in whatever role or capacity that looks like. He hasdefended his brothers-in-arms more than once when the Arkansas fanbase has “expressed frustration” with certain aspects of the team.

He also gives of himself off the court. There are media clips of him the last couple of seasons visiting the local elementary schools and involved in other community projects with different team members and he just seems to truly enjoy the interactions, embracing the opportunity, always with that same smile on his face.

And he also managed to graduate along the way, receiving his diploma in Agricultural, Food & Life Sciences back in November.

He is a man with missions and goals, and seems to be accomplishing them in the way that we Arkansans would expect – purposefully, gracefully, determinedly, proudly.

I had hoped to get to talk to Kamani about this article before we put it out. I have questions for him! But we were not able to, as my mother-in-law used to say, “make connections,” and that is understandable. He has a job to do and many games to prepare for in the next few months. Maybe someday.

In the meantime, I will just enjoy watching him play and hoping that his approach to the game and, seemingly to life in general, will be a guiding light to the players around him.