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Ryan sophomore gets the point

Matt Johnson (center) celebrates with supporters after Ryan beat Unionville. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The Raiders had almost everything they needed.

When the Archbishop Ryan High School boys basketball team wrapped up the 2022-23 season, there weren’t a lot of question marks for this season.

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The Raiders had some of the best scorers in the Catholic League.

They had one of the best defensive teams in the area.

They had stars, role players, guys who knew their role and were ready to run it to perfection.

They had almost everything.

They did need one very important thing, however. And on coach Joe Zeglinski’s squad, it’s a crucial role. 

Last year’s point guard Zaire Paris graduated. That left Ryan without a point guard. 

They did, however, have Matt Johnson, who last year saw some minutes as a backup.

He was Plan A.

There was never a need for Plan B.

By the time the season started, Johnson proved to everyone during summer ball that Ryan had everything they needed.

“Coming in, I knew it would be tough as a freshman to play,” said Johnson, who lives in Oxford Circle. “I knew I had to wait my turn, but Zaire was very competitive, and I learned a lot. He always told me to have confidence. We were good friends, we talked a lot.”

He learned a whole lot and is still using what he learned.

The sophomore point guard might not post huge numbers every game, he might not be the first guy Raiders fans mention when talking about this year’s team, but without him, the Raiders aren’t still playing.

Ryan advanced to the semifinals of the state Class 5A playoffs Friday night by upending Unionville 62-45 in the quarterfinals at Norristown.

The win sends the Raiders into the semifinals, where they’ll meet a familiar foe, Imhotep Charter, on Monday. 

Imhotep defeated the Raiders in the city championship game, but it wasn’t a great situation for Ryan. It was coming off a deflating last-second loss in the Catholic League championship. The Panthers will see a different team Monday.

They’ll also see a point guard who now has experience playing a full year of Catholic League ball, and now three state playoff games.

In fact, he’s been ready since midseason.

“I think I started feeling really comfortable when we played Neumann-Goretti during the regular season,” Johnson said. “It was me being myself and handling the pressure. And coach Joe trusting in me. It’s fun, I love it. See where you’re at with yourself. Every night is going to be a tough matchup. It helps you get better.

“I just try to play my game and get teammates involved. I try to get them the ball, and when I have open shots, take them. My teammates, especially Darren (Williams), always tells me to shoot when I’m open. They trust me, so that helps.”

They put their trust in the right guy.

What makes Johnson special is that he truly cares about one thing: winning.

The starting lineup includes four seniors and one sophomore. His goal isn’t to win himself a championship. He’s playing to win one for his teammates.

“I know I’ll get my time, it doesn’t impact me, I just want to see everyone win,” Johnson said. “It’s fun, I love it. On the court, I just try to lead them, get them in the right spots, and make plays. I’m doing a better job of taking shots myself. It’s (a little bit of taking what teams give me, a little bit of my confidence getting better.)”

It should be little surprise Johnson is doing so well.

His father, a former football star at Dobbins, went on to play for Temple.

His older brother Mekhi is playing football at Millersville after starring at La Salle.

While Johnson might be doing it in a different sport and at a different school, he’s proud to carry on the tradition of excelling in sports.

“He loved La Salle because that was a great football program, I love Ryan because it’s a great basketball program,” said Johnson, who would sleep with a basketball, not a teddy bear, when he was a young child. “My little brother Mason, he’s 9, he plays basketball and football.”

In fact, the younger Johnsons have worked magic on the court together.

“He went to Ryan camp, he was on my team and we won the chip,” Johnson proudly said. “He came Wednesday and we lost every game before. As soon as he got there, we won ever since. He played point guard, he did everything.”

Sounds like another kid we know.

The older Johnson point guard has high hopes for his squad this year. 

“I want to win a state chip,” Johnson said. “Next year, work on everything I need to work on to be ready for next season. I’m learning a lot and I’ll be able to help the younger guys. The stuff I’m learning.

“The senior class, they mean a lot to me, I want to get a championship for them, get them some more games in high school. It won’t be the same without them, but I want them to get a chip.”

And he’ll do so by quietly leading the team the same way he always does.

“I’m not loud, and I try to be humble,” Johnson said. “Sometimes I’ll seem like I’m getting loud, but it’s just to get the plays in. I’ve learned a lot from this team, the coaches and players. I’m just trying to keep getting better.

“I really wanted to win the PCL for Coach Joe and the seniors. We worked hard to get to that moment, unfortunately just came up short by a second.”

Don’t worry, Matt, a state championship run is pretty great, too!

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