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A Young Shooter's Biggest Lesson: It's Not Just a Game : Kris Johnson, a Crenshaw High star and son of a former Bruin and NBA star, gets an education at UCLA on commercialism and fans.

March 19, 1995| When he was a junior at Crenshaw High, Kristaan Johnson's basketball fame had already grown to the point that he once was surrounded by autograph seekers at a high school tournament--in Alaska. Johnson, who led the Cougars to state championships in 1993 and 1994, was flattered by the attention, but it was just a sampling of what was to come. He is now playing for UCLA, the No. 1 team in the nation as the NCAA championship tournament began, and the spotlight has grown even brighter. Yet that spotlight has also cast some shadows. Sidelined by injuries, Johnson has had to watch from the Bruin bench as freshman teammates gained notoriety. And the commercial realities of big-time college basketball have been difficult to deal with as well. Former UCLA and NBA star Marques Johnson has kept a close eye on his son as the color commentator for Bruin home games. Kris Johnson was interviewed by Sean Waters

You have to think of coming to college as business. In high school, you can mess around. You can get away with not being on top of things and still play. But in college, you have to be on top of your game--day in, day out. You can't play injured unless you're an out-of-this-world talent.

The major pitfall, I think, is academics. It takes a lot of self-discipline to get up every morning and go to class, do your work and then be ready for a game. During the first few weeks, I would wake up at 11 a.m., and nobody would say 'Kris, get up!' I realized that I had to take responsibility, I had to start being more disciplined. There's no one over you telling you to do all this stuff.

When you're riding high, you're doing well, you're going to have people all over you. You have every friend in the world. Take (UCLA teammate) Ed O'Bannon, for instance. I'm so happy to see him coming back and doing everything right. I remember there was a time when he hurt his knee and people would encourage him, but they wouldn't be all over him like they are now.

When you're down like myself, (basketball fans) aren't as friendly. I sat out three of the six most critical games of the basketball season. But it doesn't even faze me. I proved to the coaches that I could play. I would be playing if I wouldn't have had these injuries. I feel my time will definitely come.

When you're not doing well--that's when you see who your real, true friends are, because they'll be there for you. (The Bruin stars) make me feel I'm part of the team.

I feel like (college) athletes are being exploited pretty much and not receiving as much as we deserve. We bring so much revenue into the university and we get benefits like a scholarship, but I don't feel like it's enough.

One time we signed some balls and the next thing we know, we see someone selling them for $100 a pop. The university's doing it too. We felt shortchanged.

We really don't sign that many balls now because Ed (O'Bannon) spoke out on it, because people were taking advantage of us.

I have people sending me letters, wanting me to sign stuff. They write things like, "I'm a big fan of yours, Mr. Johnson, could you please sign?" Or, "Could you have the whole team sign it?" I don't send them back.

They even have Coach K's video game--a basketball video game, with our numbers. Our numbers. So like, I'm on the game, I'm number 54, and the university holds the rights. They have the trademark or copyright to our numbers. People are buying these games to play with us, our teams, and we get no credit, no royalties, no nothing. I feel like that's wrong.

(But) things happen for a reason, and I came here and this is the right decision because I'm at home. I'm playing in front of great fans, going to the school I've always wanted to go to. I get to see my family and my dad.

It's no big deal to me to have my father announcing my games. I pretty much got over that. We talk before the game, before shoot-arounds. It's no real pressure. The last time UCLA won the NCAA championship (in 1975), he was one of the stars of the team.

I want to go into the tournament No. 1, and I want to come out No. 1.

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