Johnson snags practice shorts after signing with Braves

Greg Mast
The Ottawa Herald

Kobe Johnson finally has a pair of Ottawa University men’s basketball practice shorts.

The former Ottawa High School all-state basketball star asked Braves coach Aaron Siebenthall for the shorts when he was a high school freshman.

Kobe Johnson sitting between his mother, Melanie Herken, and father, Darnell, was all smiles after signing with Ottawa University men’s basketball team. OU coach Aaron Siebenthall (back) has been a family friend for 15 years.

“He told me I would get a pair when I signed,” Johnson said. “I am surprised coach Siebenthall remembered that.”

Siebenthall was not about to go back on his word.

“Here we are four or five years later and I kept my end of the bargain,” Siebenthall said after handing him those shorts. “He got an extra pair of shorts out of it.”

Johnson made it official this week coming home to join the Braves program.

Kobe Johnson was an all-state player for Ottawa High School leading the Cyclones to the state tournament in 2020.

For Johnson, Ottawa University is home. His mom and dad played basketball for Ottawa. He spent many hours shooting, working out and attending games in Wilson Field House.

“I knew this was the place for me,” Johnson said. “My dad [Darnell] and mom [Melanie Herken] both played here and really enjoyed it. I have two older cousins that ran track here. It is like a family.”

Siebenthall has been friends with the Johnson family since he came to Ottawa 15 years ago. One of the first people he met was Kobe’s dad, Darnell.

“I have known Kobe and his family for a real long time,” Siebenthall said. “Mel helped me buy my first house. It is great day for our program to get a great player and young man.”

Johnson spent the past year attending Combine Academy, a top International Boarding School and Professional Sports Performance Center, in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was able to learn, mature and grow in his time away from home.

“In North Carolina, I learned a lot,” Johnson said. “Overall, I improved my game. I got a lot better defensively, being able to move. My jump shot really improved.”

Johnson averaged about 14 points game for Combine’s top team, where he was a starter.

“I really enjoyed my experience,” Johnson said. “They play a different style.”

Ottawa High School coach Cliff McCullough said Johnson benefitted greatly from his time in North Carolina.

“Sometimes you need that extra year to mature physically and mentally,” McCullough said. “It was a huge decision because he was in North Carolina. He found out a lot about who Kobe was.

“He is more physical. He has gotten bigger, stronger and grew a little bit. Being down there in a prep school league, made him a more physical player. Mentally he has to be tougher.”

Back Among Friends

Johnson’s relationship with Siebenthall spans nearly his whole life.

“I have known coach Siebenthall as far back as I can remember,” Johnson said. “Coach Sieb was always talking to me.”

Ottawa was one of his final choices coming out of high school a year ago, but Johnson was not ready to commit.

Siebenthall felt Johnson made the right choice to head to a prep school.

“Having that extra year at prep school playing against bigger, faster, stronger guys than he saw in high school [helped him],” Siebenthall said. “It was like a redshirt year. He is coming in battle-tested from that Combine experience.

“Recruiting is all about relationships. It is a two-way street.”

Johnson talked with Perry Carroll, a former high school teammate and current Brave, about the Ottawa program. Johnson played with Carroll as a freshman on the Cyclone squad.

“I am good friends with Perry,” Johnson said. “Beginning of March, Perry and I talked every day about how life is at OU. He really helped me. Perry and I have been close for a really long time.

My freshmen year, Perry was always on me to work hard in practice.”

McCullough said it is fitting to see the two former Cyclone stars reunite.

“It is super awesome he gets to play with Perry for another year,” he said. “It was one of the driving forces for him coming here, plus his relationship with coach Sieb.”

Johnson played games in the summers with several current Brave players.

“He has been around our guys quite a bit,” Siebenthall said. “His senior year, he was at a ton of our games when he watched us win a championship and go 28-6. He knows what the atmosphere in Wilson Field House is like when we are playing well.”

Perfect Fit

Johnson needed a system that fits his game and style of play. He likes to play fast and use his athletic ability.

“He will fit in with the type of guys we have,” Siebenthall said. “He is a team-first [guy]. He is very versatile. I see him playing the four and the five. He has a high basketball IQ. He can pass the ball well for a big man. He will fit in our five-out style. It is a great fit at the right time.”

Johnson likes how Siebenthall’s system creates scoring opportunities for each player .

“I have seen Ottawa play my whole life,” he said. “I will fit in real well, be able to thrive and help the team as much as possible. I really like how they run things.

“Ottawa’s system has the five (center) they play at the top of the key. I will be able to find open people to shoot. I will have a lot of freedom. The four (power forward) has a lot of down screen action. All five players will be in position to score the basketball. That is why Ottawa thrives so well every year.”

McCullough said Johnson is in good hands with Siebenthall, the 2020 KCAC Coach of the Year.

“Who would not want to come here and play,” McCullough said. “He is done an outstanding job at OU. It is a great program.

“Look at the players he has [developed] and sent out the door. He is very fortunate to play for coach. He will thrive in this system. They have a winning tradition here. Not a lot of kids get to go to a traditionally-rich winning program.”