Sad news about a former Hawkeye great. John Johnson, one of the stars of Iowa's sensational 1969-70 team, has passed away at the age of 68.
Johnson, a JUCO transfer from a school in Wyoming, had a short Iowa career -- just two years, 1968-69 and 1969-70 -- but he was brilliant in the short time he was in Iowa City. Johnson scored a school-record 699 points as a senior, averaging a mind-boggling 27.9 ppg in Iowa's 25-game season. He also has Iowa's two highest-scoring games of all time, 49 versus Northwestern in 1970 and 46 against UW-Milwaukee in 1968, led the team in scoring and rebounding both years he was at Iowa, and was named team MVP as a junior and a senior. He was, by all accounts, an incredible talent and one of the best to ever suit up for the Hawkeyes.
That Iowa team his senior season was a truly remarkable team -- one of the greatest in Iowa history.
Johnson was a member of Iowa's "Six Pack" -- the highest scoring team in Big Ten history (102.9 ppg) that eclipsed the century mark 12 times. Johnson and the Ralph Miller-coached Hawkeyes won all 14 Big Ten games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
That team went 14-0 in Big Ten play (the only Iowa team to ever go undefeated in a conference season in basketball; also the last Iowa team to win a Big Ten regular season championship outright) and clinched the title in a thrilling 108-107 comeback win over second-place Purdue, despite Rick Mount's 61 points for the Boilermakers. That game inspired an engaging write-up by Sports Illustrated:
Going into last Saturday's game at Purdue, Iowa was leading the Big Ten with an 11-0 record. It had won 13 games in a row and had beaten Illinois on the road for the first time in eight years. The team was being led by a relatively unknown 6'7" senior from Milwaukee, John Johnson, who can dribble behind his back and between his legs, score almost 28 points a game and can also pass quite nicely. In fact, most of the Hawkeyes are good passers, so they have given themselves the acid rock-group nickname of J.J. and the Dealers.
Johnson was recruited out of a junior college in Powell, Wyo., and was only Miller's third JC transfer in six years. The fourth and last transfer, Fred Brown, also came from Milwaukee. A good ball handling guard, he was the lone added ingredient to this year's regulars. According to Miller, Brown made the adjustment to major-college basketball faster than any of the other JC transfers who have played for him.
Brown's arrival allowed 6'1" Chad Calabria to move up and play as a kind of third forward,using his western Pennsylvania alley-basketball background to good advantage inside. The fifth starter, Glenn (the Stick) Vidnovic, who grew up near Calabria, looks like an Iowa farmer's scarecrow who has just shaken the hay out of his sleeves. He is listed as 6'5" and 190, but the student manager must have been standing on the scales with him.
The rest of the recap is fun, too, so I'd encourage you to give it a read.
Johnson was drafted 7th by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1970 NBA Draft, but had his greatest success with another team -- the Seattle SuperSonics. Johnson and another former Hawkeye, "Downtown" Freddie Brown helped lead the Sonics to a championship in 1979. While there doesn't appear to be any Iowa-era footage of Johnson on Youtube (which is too bad; it would be great to get a glimpse of that "Six Pack" team in action), there is a little Sonics-era footage of Johnson:
He was a phenomenally well-rounded player: a tremendous scorer, savvy rebounder, and an excellent passer, too. He was well ahead of his time, a "point forward" decades before that phrase became popular. Our condolences to Johnson's family and friends for this sad loss.