When Jackie Johnson III was 10, he thought he could beat his cousin in one-on-one.
Best to 11, it would be close, but he thought he had him. Nothing has changed since then. He is still that same confident, energetic kid who has a knack for finding the bottom of the basket.
Back then, his cousin Joe Mitchell was a senior at Friends University. Mitchell was at his third and most successful stop in college, and at the end of the season, he was chosen NAIA Division II Player of the Year after averaging 32.2 points per game.
And a few years before that, Mitchell was a senior at Wichita Southeast and led the Buffaloes to the Class 6A championship game against Heights.
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Now Johnson and Mitchell are in their first year at Southeast together — Johnson, a transfer from Wichita North, and Mitchell, a first-year coach.
“His mom used to say I’m kind of like the big brother he never had,” Mitchell said.
Together Johnson and Mitchell are helping Southeast tear up the Wichita area. Johnson is averaging more than 20 points, and Mitchell is 8-1 and tied with Heights atop the City League.
Their magic sparked again Thursday night as Johnson hit a game-tying, NBA-range three-pointer with 38.6 seconds left that led to an 82-72 overtime win over previously undefeated Andover Central in the AVCTL/GWAL Challenge. Johnson finished with a game-high 34 points.
“It’s a big shot from Jackie, but he’s been doing that his whole career,” Mitchell said. “I drew up a play for him to come off a screen and curl it, but he didn’t curl it, which I’m glad he didn’t. It takes a lot of confidence and courage to shoot that type of shot, especially because he knows I’m gonna be on him if it doesn’t go in.”
Mitchell moved around the corner from his cousin. He said his star point guard is over at his house a lot, playing video games and cleaning out the snacks.
“Out here it’s different,” Mitchell said. “Out here I’m Coach Mitchell. At home, I’m cousin Joe. It will always be like that. I’ll never treat him different out here.”
Johnson was a standout freshman at North. He was the City League’s second-leading scorer at 22.1 points per game. He was only behind Southeast senior Israel Barnes, who finished his career at 23.8 a night. He is now at Division I Weber State and averages 6.2 points a night and has hit a buzzer-beater for the Wildcats.
But at the start of North’s postseason run, Johnson was out of the lineup. A few weeks later, he was enrolled at Southeast. Johnson said he was thankful to former North coach Gary Squires, who resigned after the season.
“It comes a time in life where sometimes you got to move on from things,” he said. “It was a better situation for me at Southeast.”
Johnson is one of the most ball-dominant players in the Wichita area. He is lightning in a bottle, which could have been trouble for senior guard Johnny Murdock, who orchestrated the Buffaloes’ offense last season.
It hasn’t been, Johnson said, and it shows on the court.
“Me and Jun have a great relationship,” he said. “That’s my brother right there, even when I was at North. I grew up playing with him, so there was never any problem at all transitioning in here at Southeast.”
Johnson and Mitchell are following in historically great footsteps. Not only is Johnson looking to duplicate what his cousin did in gold and black, he is chasing the likes of All-State players such as Dupree Lucas, Bubba Sheafe and Rashad Washington.
Mitchell was the last All-State selection out of Southeast. Johnson is likely the next.
For the coach, he is walking the path of Carl Taylor, who won 318 games in the City League and three state championships before dying of diabetes in 2015.
But Mitchell said he didn’t want the Southeast job at first. He applied for Squires’ position at North. When former Southeast junior varsity coach Eric Hammond got the job instead and varsity coach Melvin Herring resigned a couple of weeks before the season, Mitchell took the job at his alma mater.
A lot had to happen to get the cousins back together at Southeast. The path wasn’t defined, but they are enjoying the moments and wins together like when Mitchell jumps into practice, at family get-togethers and nights like Thursday.
“I love it,” Johnson said. “We take constructive criticism and can’t thank Coach Mitchell enough for putting me in the right position. I grew up watching him and have taken some of the things he did and put them into my game, too. I’m like a sponge. I take everything I can from him.”