Nevada men’s basketball player Jazz Johnson recently scored a career high of 27 points in his game against Air Force. As a junior, he’s been awarded two Mountain West Conference media honors, Sixth Man of the Year and Honorable Mention. The team recently won its third consecutive regular season championship. Off the court, Johnson reflects on the sacrifices it’s taken to be in this position. KUNR Stephanie Serrano sat down with him to talk about his upbringing, family, and his younger sister Nyame, along with, of course, the Mountain West tournament.
Johnson is a native of Portland, Oregon, a city where the sun hides and the rain is consistent. The sound of the rain’s soft drip is one he misses now that he lives in the Nevada desert. Johnson says growing up in Portland allowed him to mature in many ways, and he’s thankful for the variety of people and perspectives he was exposed to from a young age.
“Growing up in Portland was perfect in my eyes because it’s real laid back but it’s still accessible to everything,” Johnson said. “It’s a good place to raise kids, and it's really about being accepting of everyone. That helped my maturation as a person because I was able to experience all kinds of people.”
As a child Johnson had the “baller blood” running through his veins. His earliest memory of basketball started with a Shaq poster, his favorite player when he was just four years old.
“I kept trying to practice the same kind of dunk he did, the same pose that he did in that poster,” he remembered. “My mom said that I actually ran up to her once I felt that I actually had it, I ran up to her and told her to take a picture of me dunking, and to this day we still have that picture.”
While Johnson grew up, his father taught him the ins and outs of basketball, becoming his lifelong trainer. His mother supported his athletic goals but always pushed him to excel in the classroom. With basketball and education in mind, his family consistently moved around in search of the perfect schools to support their son’s talents. This required sacrifices from everyone, including his younger sister Nyame.
“I want to shout out my sister and tell her I love her because she was that pawn in everything, she sacrificed so much and she’s had to deal with a lot just off of being Jazz’s little sister,” Johnson said.
Johnson transferred to the University of Nevada, Reno from the University of Portland in 2017. For his first year as a student at Nevada, he redshirted, making him a fourth-year junior this season. During that sit-out year, he underwent shoulder surgery on his right arm, his shooting arm.
“A big part of my game is my ability to shoot. I was scared,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know if I was going to come back and be the same player, and I didn’t think I was going to come back and shoot the same because, for a long time, it just felt crazy shooting. I couldn't shoot the same fluid way and it got to a point where I felt like I didn’t know if I wanted to do this anymore.”
After overcoming thoughts about leaving the game for good, Johnson had his debut with the Wolf Pack this 2018-2019 season. He has ended the regular season with a career high of 27 points, a handful of conference awards, and he became one of seven on the team to reach a high of 1,000 scored points over his career.
But it’s not over yet; the Wolf Pack heads to the Mountain West tournament as the number one seed after winning their third consecutive Mountain West regular season championship. Johnson says their regular season record doesn’t matter anymore as he looks forward to the tournament.
“It’s about doing whatever we need to do to win this tournament, you know, everyone playing together and making sure that we are as close as we have ever been all season because at this point now, every game you lose it kicks you out of something. And now, everyone is 0-0, and everyone has to play their best basketball.”