Mariner junior Jailin Johnson makes a 3-point shot during practice on Thursday at Mariner High School in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mariner junior Jailin Johnson makes a 3-point shot during practice on Thursday at Mariner High School in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

December Athlete of the Month: Mariner’s Jailin Johnson

A Q&A with the junior point guard who was the winner of our December Athlete of the Month poll.

Jailin Johnson didn’t take long to make an impression on Mariner High School boys basketball coach Tevin Dillon.

When Johnson was an eighth grader, he found Dillon at one of the high school’s football games in the fall of 2018. He had a simple message for the Marauders’ coach.

“I’m going to be you’re starting point guard next year,” Johnson said.

Dillon couldn’t help but chuckle at the confident young hoopster.

The challenge of running the point as a freshman at the Class 4A level is tall task for anyone, but the Marauders did have a need for a point guard the next season after graduating starter Edwin Bouah. After impressing Dillon in the summer heading into his freshman year, Johnson made true on his statement.

“Not only was he talented, but he worked super hard,” Dillon said. “So I knew if he can hang with these guys right now, by the time he’s going to be a senior he’s going to excel because he works so hard. I had complete confidence in him.”

So how did Johnson handle that role?

“I think he did a good job,” Dillon said. “I’m really hard on my point guards. I played point guard, so I think I put a lot more pressure on those guys, and I told him that. The thing about him … is we have such a good relationship. Not only does he want me to be hard on him, but he takes the criticism and he fights through it. So I think he stepped in and did a great job. He took criticism and took coaching and has grown a lot.”

That growth has been especially evident this season as the 5-foot-10 junior has stepped into an even bigger role while helping Mariner claim a Wesco 4A title — the program’s first league title since 2003. Johnson was more of a facilitator on offense during his first two seasons due to the abundance of talented upperclassmen surrounding him. Now that many of those players have graduated Mariner needed more scoring from Johnson this year.

He quickly showed he was capable of doing just that while averaging 18.3 points through the Class 4A 10th-ranked Marauders’ first six games, including 27 points against 3A ninth-ranked Shorecrest and a season-high 28 against 2A second-ranked Lynden.

That early offensive outburst came as no surprise to Dillon.

“Through Little League and middle school he has always been a really good scorer,” Dillon said. “… Now that we need that a little more, he’s just going into the normal stuff he does. He’s always been a guy that can get buckets. Now he’s stepping into both roles.”

Johnson’s contributions on offense have been matched by his tenacious defense on the perimeter where he’s tasked with picking up the opposing point guard on a nightly basis.

“That’s where his bread and butter is,” Dillon said. “Him and (teammate) Tijan (Saine), those guys get into those guards and they’re a pain to get around because they’re so quick. He does a good job of getting in the lanes and staying in front of guys. Defensively is where he really makes his money.”

Johnson’s 28-point outburst against Lynden earned him The Herald’s Athlete of the Week for Dec. 20-26. He went on to win The Herald’s Athlete of the Month voting for December by claiming 669 (45.8%) of 1,462 votes.

We recently caught up with Johnson to talk about basketball and his future plans:

How did you get started playing basketball?

My grandpa and my dad, they introduced it to me. I used to always watch the Cleveland Cavaliers play because I’m from Ohio, so (my family is) big into basketball.

What part of Ohio are you from and when did you move here?

I’m from Dayton. I moved out here when I was in like fifth grade.

What’s something from Ohio that you miss that you can’t get here?

My friends and family for sure.

What was it like coming into this team as a freshman and starting at point guard?

It was a lot. At first, I used to have a lot of ups and downs. I used to do freshman things. I couldn’t see the defenses sometimes or I’d just make the wrong pass or dribble it off my foot. As I got older, it’s just made me a stronger player and helped my IQ.

Was there a time over the past couple years where you feel like things really started to click for you?

This year at the beginning of the season a lot of things are starting to fall into place. During my freshman and sophomore year we had a lot of scorers. So I didn’t have to come off and score and get people open as much as I do know. I feel like now it’s starting to click and all that hard work since freshman year is starting to pay off.

How does it feel to be a part of the turnaround for Mariner basketball?

It feels great. It just shows that all the hard work pays off at the end of the day. It makes me proud and I know it makes everyone else proud. Everybody has their down (times), but eventually you gotta come up. I’m just glad everybody came together, put in that hard work, and all that grinding has been paying off.

We’re right at the start of the postseason. What’s the end goal for this team?

The state championship. That’s success. We got (the Wesco 4A title). Now we just want to get to the (Tacoma) Dome. That’s our goal right now. We gotta take it one step at a time, and we don’t want to settle for falling short like we did two years ago.

What’s your favorite basketball memory?

It’s gotta be my freshman year when I hit a buzzer-beater against Kamiak. We had a rivalry against Kamiak before then.

What happened?

We had called a play … and (Kamiak was) denying everybody and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going to have to make a play.’ (Johnson used a crossover to get to the basket for a game-winning layup) No matter the situation I know I’m not scared of the moment. So I just had to step up and hit the shot.

Have you put much thought in what you’d like to do after high school?

I’ve been thinking about being a sports trainer if I don’t make it into any (basketball) league or anything like that. So I’d wanna be a sports trainer or doing something in sports and helping people.

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