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Second-year Waxahachie head coach Corey Johnson has the Indians on the verge of a District 11-6A title share with his alma mater. (Photo courtesy WISD Athletics)

No. 12 Waxahachie hoops leaning on young head coach’s past lessons, titles ahead of 6A playoff run

By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports

WAXAHACHIE — Corey Johnson knows how to win in the postseason. He has two Texas high school basketball state championships to prove it. 

Waxahachie’s second-year head boys’ basketball coach also knows how to identify next-level talent and a state-gold-standard team. And in his highly humble opinion, the Indians have both — and then some.

“I don’t even think it comes down just to the basketball part,” said Johnson in a Beyond the Box Score interview with Ellis County Sports. “I think it’s about them caring about each other off the court and on the court and really wanting the best for each other.”

The Indians’ 63-57 come-from-behind win Friday at home against now-third-place No. 14 (26-6, 10-3) Mansfield Lake Ridge has Johnson and the Tribe one win from a share of the District 11-6A crown. It’s a district with a recent history of sending a team to the state tournament in San Antonio.

Lake Ridge bolted ahead in the second quarter via a 23-9 run to take a 31-17 lead into the half. The Indians outscored the Eagles by 11 points (25-14) in the third quarter and ultimately held off the visitors for win No. 20 on the season to just 10 losses. Waxahachie is currently 11-2 in 11-6A play. 

Junior forward Parker Jefferson (6-foot-9) works in the paint against a Mansfield Legacy defender. (Photo courtesy WISD Athletics)

Junior forward Parker Jefferson led all scorers with 21 points and added 13 points for his 17th double-double of the season. It was Jefferson’s 7th time to pull down 13 rebounds or more in a game (season-high 16 against Cedar Hill on Jan. 23). 

Sophomore guard Trae Nunn added 16 points, while Jeremiah Rucker (12) and Isayah Pankey (9) also helped fuel the Indian offense. Pankey dished out a game-high 6 assists to run his season total to a district-best 139 (4.6 APG).

No. 12 Waxahachie and No. 11 (17-9) Duncanville now sit tied atop the 11-6A standings. Should the Indians take care of (11-22, 1-12) Dallas Skyline on Tuesday and the Panthers do the same on the road against (11-19, 4-9) Mansfield Legacy, the two uber-talented teams will remain knotted at the top.

Could the Indians and Panthers meet for a seeding game on a neutral court? Sure. Though, either head coach would certainly kick himself should a major injury occur during said game — and Waxahachie is already dealing with the temporary loss of budding superstar King Grace, who is averaging 21.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and a couple backboard-rattling dunks per game during his junior campaign. 

The 6-foot-5 guard is nursing a lower leg injury but is expected to return to the lineup before the upcoming playoff run. Grace hasn’t played since pouring in 28 points in a 74-59 win against Cedar Hill on Jan. 23.

Should both district leaders emerge victorious on Tuesday, there will be a coin flip to determine the 1 and 2 seeds strictly for playoff formatting. Waxahachie and Duncanville will share the claim to the District 11-6A title as co-champions.

If recent history should indicate anything, there could be a second coin flip in the two teams’ future. Only that 50/50 decision would be to decide which team is afforded the opportunity to host a third-round 6A playoff game between the two programs.

Should that opportunity arise, it’ll oddly enough be the lessons Johnson learned as a student-athlete and assistant coach while wearing Duncanville blue that will help guide the Tribe.

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Johnson received his first taste of UIL state gold as a senior guard on the 2007 (39-0) Duncanville Panther team that finished second in the nation behind (40-1) Oak Hill Academy (VA). That neighboring squad defeated Humble Kingwood, 60-46, in the 5A state championship inside the since-demolished Frank Erwin Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus. 

Johnson started at point guard in that state title game for the Panthers. He played in 22 minutes, took and missed his only shot from the field and collected 4 rebounds. Kevin Butler, meanwhile, came off the bench to score 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the floor en route to being named the MVP of the state title game.

And Johnson wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“Winning a state championship will change your life, and I mean that 100%,” said Johnson, who regularly reminds his team of that fact. “I averaged 5 points my senior year. But I played my role and played with some really good guys.” 

As best his memory recalls, he was the only starter from the state team to not go on to a Division I university. Butler, a 2008 Duncanville grad, went on to have a four-year NCAA career at TCU and the University of Texas at Arlington. 

“What I understood, though, is it’s about the team and understanding ‘what do I do really, really well?'”

Johnson, who remains close friends with those teammates today, credits that state title run with his understanding of what it takes to be a “great teammate.”

“More than anything, I just learned how to do things the right way,” Johnson added. “We are trying to tell [our team] that if everyone will play the right way, then everyone will eat in some fashion.” 

Johnson continued his basketball playing career for a bit longer at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens. He eventually transferred solely for academics to the University of Houston and later served as a grad assistant at Ole Miss before returning to his alma mater in 2014. 

“I knew in high school that I would be a coach,” he said. “[…] In the coaching profession, that’s where I’m starting to get my wings. Everybody’s story is different. Everybody’s path is different. But I’ve learned that if you do things the right way and take care of other people to make sure they are OK, then it’s going to come back to you.”

Johnson spent the next 7 seasons as an assistant coach at Duncanville, which included the program’s 4th state hoops title in the 2018-19 season. Those Panthers skated by a Waxahachie team led by JT Warren (WTAMU), BJ Francis (Odessa College) and CJ Noland (OU, UNT) in the bi-district round, 64-61. 

Johnson’s first head coaching gig came in the spring of 2020 after longtime head coach Patrick Washington stepped down at Dallas Woodrow Wilson. Washington had led the Wildcats to 14 playoff berths in 19 seasons. 

Woodrow Wilson continued that playoff run with a 15-9 record and 3rd-place district finish in Johnson’s first season. The Wildcats improved to 20-13 and 13-3 (2nd) in district play in his second season at the helm.

The Waxahachie gig opened following the departure of hometown hero Greg Gober in the spring of 2022 and Johnson received the nod. That first year with the Tribe saw the extremely young Indians finish 5th in 11-6A with a 12-21 overall record and a 6-8 district mark. 

The expectations didn’t change for year two. Neither did the message.

“More than anything, I try to give these guys examples of my experiences from the past,” Johnson said. “A big focus for our program is just playing for each other and playing team ball. But the main thing we can do as coaches is to hold these kids accountable. We will pull the kids into the office for a one-on-one and go through every one of their shots or if they are missing guys on defense. We are holding them accountable for that. There is a consequence for every action.”

Johnson explained that if he and his staff can drill those mental notes and practices into the student-athletes heads now, it’ll only serve to benefit the young men at the next level. 

“There are very few guys who are able to go to the next level and dribble the ball 15 times or take contested shots,” he said. “It’s a tough job for everybody, but we will continue to hold them accountable every week.”

For the full interview, visit this Spotify link and jump to the 9-minute mark. Or, better yet, listen to the full podcast and pass along a 5-star rating.

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Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith

tsmith@elliscosports.com

About Travis M. Smith

Travis M. Smith is the owner and content director of Ellis County Sports and has over a decade of award-winning sports coverage. He most recently served as the digital sports director for KBEC 1390AM/99.1FM. He is the former managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light, Midlothian Mirror and Glen Rose Reporter.

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