Kirby Johnson is in good health and doesn’t have to retire. But entering his 33rd season as Temple College’s men’s basketball coach, Johnson, 65, believes the time is right to call it a career at season’s end. After all, the Temple native will have guided the Leopards for more than half his life.
“That’s enough. And I still feel good. I don’t feel worn out or anything. But you still want to do (other) things,” said Johnson, who’ll continue to be a professor in TC’s physical education department until this school year ends. “(Wife) Kim and I have seven grandkids now and that will give me a chance to spend more time with them. There’s all kinds of advantages. The timing is good.”
Johnson’s final season with the high-scoring Leopards begins at 4 p.m. Saturday when they host Mondello College, followed by next Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. duel with 15th-ranked Navarro at TC Gym.
Temple, which went 24-7 last season and tied Collin for second place in the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference, perennially qualifies for the NJCAA Region V Tournament but hasn’t won a postseason game since 2005. Johnson says this TC team — picked to finish third in the eight-team NTJCAC behind No. 2 Ranger and rival McLennan — has sufficient firepower to achieve big things.
Fueling Temple’s charge is West Virginia-committed sophomore guard Kedrian Johnson, last season’s NTJCAC Newcomer of the Year who averaged 25.6 points and a nation-leading 3.7 steals. Sophomore point guard R.J. Mason returns after rupturing his Achilles tendon last January, and 6-foot-11 freshman forward Carlton Linguard is being recruited by high-profile NCAA Division I programs.
“I just think we have really good talent here,” said Kirby Johnson, who’s 691-299 at TC and seeks a 10th consecutive regional berth. “We’ve got five or six guys I think are Division I players.”
Temple’s other longtime basketball coach is Kim Sebek, who takes a 341-285 record into her 22nd season directing the Lady Leopards. TC’s season commences with two 2 p.m. neutral-site games at McLennan in Waco, against Cedar Valley today and No. 25 Angelina on Saturday. Temple’s home opener is against Blinn at 5:30 p.m. next Wednesday.
The fact Temple hasn’t reached the Region V Tournament since 2016 bothers Sebek, who’s assembled a new-look roster including only one returning player from last season’s 17-13 team, sophomore guard Brooke Lopez. TC’s fresh start has Sebek energized and optimistic.
“I’m really excited about our athleticism and depth. It’s a totally different team,” said Sebek, whose squad was picked sixth in the NTJCAC coaches’ preseason poll. “We’re so much ahead of last year. We definitely want to work our way into the top four in conference.”
Sebek said the emergence of skilled 5-8 point guard Jordyn Carter and 5-foot fellow freshman Kassadie Sanders has allowed the 5-4 Lopez (7.9 points per game, 52 3-pointers) to shift to shooting guard, her natural position.
“Brooke’s a competitor and can shoot,” Sebek said. “Jordyn’s athletic, quick and an excellent defender and distributor.”
The Lady Leopards expect effective play from 6-foot freshman forwards Starr Jacobs and Tiana Gardner, athletic 5-9 sophomore transfer forward Keiarra Rivers and versatile 5-7 freshman guard Alex Maresca.
For the TC men, 6-3 Kedrian Johnson is a leading conference MVP candidate. Mason’s injury in last season’s third conference game caused Johnson to play more point guard, which he’s also done in recent scrimmages — despite a broken pinky on his shooting hand — because of Mason’s minor hamstring injury.
“In a roundabout way, that’s probably helped Kedrian’s game,” Kirby Johnson said.
The steady 6-foot Mason averaged 17.5 points, 4.4 assists and 2.3 steals in 17 games before the torn Achilles. Kirby Johnson said Mason attacked the rehab process well and regained full strength by September.
Linguard somehow flew under the radar at San Antonio Stevens before signing with TC. The tallest player Kirby Johnson has coached, Linguard is being sought by Texas A&M, Kansas, Kansas State and St. John’s, among others.
“It’s been overwhelming for him,” Kirby Johnson said of Linguard’s recruiting interest. “Carlton’s very fluid. He can score and shoot the 3.”
Sophomore wing Kortrijk Miles, a 6-5 New Mexico State transfer, is a projected starter. TC has two talented freshman forwards from Austin with 6-9 Josiyah Thorn and 6-7 Aleu Aleu, a Kenya native. The Leopards also anticipate positive contributions from three freshmen: 6-5 wing Hugo Floresedt from Sweden, 5-9 point guard Tariq Aman and 6-1 combination guard Tyler Watkins.
NOTE: Temple’s teams begin NTJCAC play Jan. 8 at Grayson, and their conference home openers are Jan. 11 against Weatherford. Kirby Johnson’s home finale is Feb. 22 vs. Southwestern Christian.