LJ Johnson heard everything he needed to hear. He was sold.
A few weeks ago, Johnson remembers having a conversation with IL’s head coach for football, Adam Hastings. The two were familiar with each other. They had run in similar circles in Charlotte: Hastings coached football at Ardrey Kell and Providence Day before arriving at Indian Land in 2020, while Johnson coached basketball at Butler and Harding University High School.
“We played each other a few times,” Johnson told The Herald in a phone interview last week. “So we just talked. And he said, ‘This area longs for something to mess with, someone to mess with.’ ”
Johnson thought to himself, “I think I can give it.”
Indian Land believes he can deliver that, too.
Johnson will be Indian Lands’ next head coach for boys basketball. He takes over from Nate Smith, who retired in March. Smith served as head coach of the Warriors for 16 years, receiving 13 playoff bids and a record of 163-156 during that time.
But last season, the Warriors went 7-15.
Johnson comes to the Lancaster County panhandle from Harding, Charlotte, where in three years he helped turn a .500 program into a SoMECK conference champion. The native Waxhaw, NC, will now work seven minutes away from his childhood home where his mother still lives, he said.
At Indian Land, Johnson “sees opportunity” – to build a program in a community that is rapidly growing and rediscovering its identity.
He also looks home.
“Just growing up in that community and seeing how it has grown and boomed over the last 20 years has (been special),” Johnson said, adding, “I really like what society has to offer. I can well like the competitive nature of the athletes coming out of the field. … It could be a really good environment to grow – not only from a knowledge point of view, but also as a South Carolina powerhouse. “
Johnson, 34, has played sports in Carolina all his life. He graduated from Parkwood High in 2005 as a three-sport athlete (football, basketball and court) and received a scholarship to play basketball at UNC Pembroke.
A year into his time at UNCP, the school started its football program, and Johnson was a big part of the program’s first three years of success. His college football career opened up a lot of opportunities for him professionally – including a brief stint with the Orlando Predators, an arena football team and a spot on the Carolina Panthers’ training team.
While at the Panthers, he got his start training. He was the assistant football coach at Providence Day for a few years before moving to Butler High School, where he was the assistant football and basketball coach from 2012-17.
Johnson got his first chance for a head coach appearance in Harding in 2018.
After his first season as the Rams went 11-15, Johnson saw his program continue to be successful. In his last three years, his team achieved three winning seasons, three playoff appearances and an overall record of 45-11. (He also sent four basketball players to college during his four years in Harding, he said.)
Johnson described himself as a “player coach.” He likes to play “aggressively” and fast on the offensive – because, he explained, “controlling the pace of the game ultimately controls the outcome of it.”
Johnson said he is nearing the end of the school year in Harding and is looking forward to working with Warrior basketball teams. He will also be the assistant coach of the football team and is also ready to meet these players.
“He has a wealth of knowledge and experience in basketball as well as football,” said Indian Land athletic director Vernon Hunter. “We feel he will be a great asset to the Indian community.”
Johnson sees opportunities in the Indian country. And it is also clear that Indian Land sees opportunities in him.