Niles grad to fulfill dream

Kane-Johnson given his Division I opportunity as walk-on at YSU

Tribune Chronicle file / John Vargo Niles graduate Cameron Kane-Johnson (4), and Westminster College teammate Deontay Scott (42) guard Penn State-Beaver guard DJ Austin during this November game in New Wilmington, Pa. Kane-Johnson is getting his to fulfill his dream as a walk-on to the Youngstown State men’s basketball team.

Dribble. Slash. Shoot. Score.

Repeat often.

Cameron Kane-Johnson’s movements always have purpose. Nov. 21, 2017, it had more meaning.

He knew he had to make an impact. Thirty points, a career high.

His Westminster College team, a Division III team. The Titans shouldn’t be competing with a Division I Youngstown State team. They did, leading at halftime. YSU had to rally to win.

The 5-foot-11 guard left an impression on the Penguins, so much they reached out to Kane-Johnson and made the Niles High School graduate a walk-on to a YSU team — a program that embraces non-scholarship players.

YSU coach Jerrod Calhoun, who was a non-scholarship player at Cleveland State, had seven on last season’s roster — including John F. Kennedy graduate Justin Bofenkamp and South Range graduate Dan Ritter.

“I’m not going to lie, I was a little jealous,” Kane-Johnson said. “I was happy for them at the same time that people from this area were getting a shot at playing at the highest level.

“That definitely motivated me to keep grinding and keep working to maybe one day get the opportunity.”

Kane-Johnson, who led the Titans with 16 points a game and shot 36 percent from 3-point range, has to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. He’ll have two years of eligibility at YSU.

Surely the Niles graduate would’ve been one of Westminster’s greats by the time he would’ve finished with the Titans, but the surroundings didn’t fit him.

Farmland. Country living. Small-town setting.

It wasn’t part of the equation, neither was his ultimate goal — playing Division I basketball.

“I never gave up on that goal,” Kane-Johnson said. “I had the opportunity. I had to jump on it.”

He said late in his senior year former coach Jerry Slocum told him there’s a really good chance he could walk on for the Penguins. A couple weeks later, that proposal disappeared.

Most places didn’t provide a glimmer of hope. Division I schools wouldn’t even give him a look coming out of Niles, even though he was almost a 4.0 student and a tireless worker in the gym. All they saw is a guard shorter than 6-0.

Last year’s Niles boys basketball coach Ron Price thought Kane-Johnson, the Red Dragons all-time leading scorer, could make an impact at YSU.

Kane-Johnson is the second player to be under Price to play for the Penguins. Dan Jones, who was Newbury’s boys basketball coach this past season, was at YSU under then-coach John Robic from 2004-05 before heading to Notre Dame College.

Both former Red Dragon players not only made an impact on Niles, but Price as well.

“Two of the best I’ve seen in Niles, without question,” Price said. “Two of the best kids I’ve ever been around. YSU is getting one heckuva an addition. I think he’ll make an impact without question.”

Kane-Johnson comes to Beeghly Center this summer, along with the rest of the team.

Eventually, he wants to make his mark on this floor — like he did on Nov. 21.

He said Calhoun told him if he produces, he’ll play (starting in 2019-20 season). That’s the chance the Niles graduate wanted.

“Even though they gave me this walk-on opportunity, I’m still not where I want to be,” Kane-Johnson. “I plan on getting on the court at some time and making an impact.

“I know a lot of people who have seen me probably doesn’t think that’s going to happen. The most exciting part is I get a new challenge and big challenge that I get to decide to conquer.”