Johnston takes charge as floor leader

Jeff Johnston said his father, Jon, played point guard at Estancia High in the 1980s.

"I think they had a really good team back then, at least from what he tells me," said Johnston, whose father led the Eagles to the CIF Southern Section Division 3-A title game in 1984.

Twelve years later, Jon's son was born. Somehow, Jon raised a shooting guard.

Growing up, Johnston was more of a slasher on the court. His style of play had to change before his sophomore season at Corona del Mar.

Johnston had to learn how to play his father's old position. That was the best way for Johnston to earn playing time in his first season on varsity.

The Sea Kings didn't have a point guard coming back from last year's successful season. They really didn't have many players returning.

Ten were lost to graduation, including all five starters.

The Sea Kings began to form a new team, which looked nothing like the one that claimed a share of the Pacific Coast League title and reached the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3AA playoffs last season.

Players began to fill four starting spots at CdM, leaving the point up for grabs.

The last job came between Johnston and one of his best friends, Charlie Coffman. The two started in the backcourt on the freshman team last season, leading CdM to a league title.

Johnston and Coffman battled to run the floor on varsity. They alternated as the starting point guard, until Johnston won out.

In the 20th game of the season, the fifth in league, Johnston earned the starting job at point guard.

In the next game, Johnston's confidence grew. He went on to turn in his best performance last week on the road, a place that has been hostile to CdM this season.

The Sea Kings hadn't won a road game all season, and they went to Johnston late to secure the first victory away from home.

With around 30 seconds left and CdM ahead by three, Blake Grable attacked the basket. Defenders collapsed on Grable, leaving a wide-open Johnston on the baseline.

From 15 feet out, Johnston, without hesitating, drained the jumper. The Sea Kings' lead grew to five and they were on their way to a 58-54 win at Irvine.

"It seemed surreal," said Johnston, who finished with a team-high 12 points. "I've never really had the ball in a key situation like that, especially in a varsity game. To hit that shot, I was a little in shock at first."

Coach Ryan Schachter was just as surprised, because his team had never traveled and prevailed.

The Sea Kings had to break through on the road for any chance to defend their league crown. They are 5-2 in league, one game behind first-place Woodbridge, which is 6-1.

The final three league contests are all must-win situations for CdM, ranked fifth in the Division 3A poll. After the Sea Kings play host to University on Friday at 7 p.m., they hit the road for the final two games.

Johnston said he and his teammates are ready for the challenge. To win out, Johnston said the team must take quality shots and stay composed throughout.

At the end of games is where Schachter has seen his Sea Kings (13-9 overall) scramble and fall apart. In six of the team's nine losses this season, Schachter said CdM has blown fourth-quarter leads.

During his previous five seasons at CdM, Schachter's teams have been able to close out games. As a result, the Sea Kings have won four league titles and one section title and advanced to the quarterfinals three times under Schachter.

"We've always had really good point guards. We've been lucky," said Schachter, bringing up names like Clayton Ragsdale and Erik Rask. "The one year we didn't have a great point guard, we had a 6-foot-9 guy [in Stefan Kaluz], and you're [going to be] OK with that. That was [my] first year [at CdM] and we won CIF, but we had so many other good pieces."

Johnston believes the parts are at CdM to contend in league and make a run in the playoffs.

While the team lacks a go-to player, it has offensive options.

"We got Jake [McCloskey], Joey [Calise] and [Blake] Grable down the stretch, and then we got [Max] Stone, who can hit a big shot," Johnston said. "We have a lot of guys than can step up. It doesn't have to be [the same] one guy every night. It can be a different guy every night."

The job of getting the ball to the hot hand is Johnston's as the point guard.

Johnston is doing that now and the Sea Kings have taken off, winning four straight in league.

"He's an old-school point guard. He doesn't over-dribble. He doesn't look to shoot, but he's physical and he's becoming a better playmaker," Schachter said. "It's not always easy to make the right pass, or to make a play for somebody else, but he's starting to learn how to do that and that's really helping us."

david.carrillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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Jeff Johnston

Born: Oct. 8, 1996

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 5-foot-10

Weight: 165 pounds

Sport: Basketball

Position: Point guard

Coach: Ryan Schachter

Favorite food: Pizza

Favorite movie: "Top Gun"

Favorite athletic moment: "Winning league [on the] freshmen [team]."

Week in review: Johnston hit a big shot down the stretch and finished with a team-high 12 points to lead CdM to a 58-54 Pacific Coast League win at Irvine, the program's first road victory of the season.

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