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A Hero Comes Home: Kerron Johnson's Return to Belmont


Photos Courtesy of Belmont Athletics

During the storm of the game, he becomes the calming voice for Belmont basketball players because he was once in their shoes, wowing the crowd at the Curb Event Center.  


Over 10 years ago, Kerron Johnson suited up for the Bruins, leading them to three-straight NCAA tournament appearances. 


Now, he still finds himself at the Curb Event Center every gameday as the director of player development for Belmont, helping train the next group of great Bruins.  


It’s a job Johnson didn’t expect to have after a 10-year professional career that saw him travel all over the world, bouncing from team to team.  


Returning to Belmont served as a chance to come back to the place he once called home while continuing to help develop a culture he strived to create as a player. 


“I’m so passionate about the team because I know what it can be,” Johnson said. “To watch those guys take on that mantle and do the things they did is why I came back. I wanted to be able to help out the kids.” 


At a young age, basketball became an integral part of Johnson’s life. 


“It's always been there. I just know it’s always been a love of mine,” Johnson said. “Even when I played other sports, it was always No. 1 for me.” 


Not having a brother, Johnson played basketball with older kids in the neighborhood who also found themselves addicted to basketball. 


What kept bringing Johnson back was the opportunity to prove he belonged. 


“I grew up hanging around with older guys, and that’s what they were doing. We were always finding a house to play basketball at,” Johnson said.  


Johnson continued to maintain that competitive edge at Madison Academy in Madison, Alabama, helping lead the Mustangs to three-straight state championships. 


By the end of his junior year, schools began to take notice of his talent, sending him letters upon letters in attempts to win his attention.  


One of those schools was Belmont. 


“They were on me pretty early,” Johnson said. “I remember Coach Ayers being one of the earliest people to contact me and just tell me how much they appreciated the way I played the game.” 


Even with high-profile programs vying for his commitment after he averaged 24 points per game his senior year, Johnson chose to attend Belmont because the staff felt like family. 


“By the time I was ready to make my decision, I had already formed a relationship with these guys,” Johnson said. “It was an easy choice for me.” 


Johnson’s freshman season at Belmont didn’t go as expected as youth and inexperience led to a 19-13 record, the last time a Belmont team failed to reach 20 or more wins. 


But the failure led to Johnson and the Bruins creating one goal. 


“It became a point where we decided to make a change. That's the standard that we were going to leave,” Johnson said. “The standard now is to leave a legacy.” 


With that standard came the strive to be the best player possible. 


Before he became the head coach at Belmont, Casey Alexander worked under Rick Byrd as an assistant. 


Alexander calls Johnson “one of the most favorite players I have ever coached.” 


“He was one of our greatest competitors of all time. He was very impactful on both ends of the floor,” Alexander said. “I think there's such great value in having a winning mentality and being a winner. Kerron’s the best example of that.” 


In the 2013 Ohio Valley Conference Championship Final, Johnson nailed a jumper at the elbow as time expired to give the Bruins the win over hated rival Murray State.  


Athletic Director Scott Corley was at the game, witnessing the arena go wild as Johnson refused to lose. 


“Kerron earlier in the game got his chin cut open and missed time. It was just a tight game the whole way.” Corley said. “He just rose up and shot his left-handed shot. It was nothing but net and the place went bonkers. You always knew if he was taking the biggest shot of the game, it was going to go in.” 


After Belmont, Johnson never stuck with one team or in one place.  


He moved from country to country, going wherever basketball took him, whether it be New Zealand, Germany, Russia or Italy.  


These countries gave Johnson a whole new perspective on life. 


“They're just trying to live. They’re normal people. They have lives. They have ups and downs and problems,” Johnson said. “It was just really good for me to see different cultures. We live so fast here. It's not that way everywhere.” 


He also witnessed the adoration different countries had for basketball.  


“It doesn't matter if it's the top team or the lowest team. There's 12,000 fans in there going crazy,” Johnson said. “You go to Serbia, and you play in front of a hostile crowd of 30,000 people. You get to see very quickly that basketball is a global game.” 


At the end of his 10th season, Johnson began contemplating his future, noticing that his life seemed to be changing.  


“I spent 10 months out of the year in Europe,” Johnson said. “Your family gets older, and you have a family. Life happened.” 


Then a call came from Belmont, offering Johnson the director of player development role despite him having no coaching experience. 


“It was pretty random. I wanted someone who knew me and had Belmont connections.” Alexander said. “It was all just a guess on our part because he had no coaching background.” 


For Johnson, the call was the answer to his prayers — literally. 


“I prayed on it, and all of a sudden, Coach Ayers calls me,” Johnson said. “I just felt like it was the path I was supposed to be walking.”  


It’s a hire that Corley said he is extremely pleased with. 


“He’s been nothing but an asset to the program. He’s building relationships with the players that the head coach can’t get. He can speak to the standards of the Belmont program.” Corley said.  


Now, Johnson looks to continue to learn so that he can maintain the legacy he poured his blood, sweat and tears into building. 


“I get to learn from Casey, who is in my opinion one of the top coaches in the country,” Johnson said. “What I'm doing right now is I'm learning, and wherever that takes me is what I'm going to do.”  


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This article was written by Ty Wellemeyer

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