Orlando Johnson's rocky road to the NBA
Orlando Johnson won't be making the trip to New Jersey for the 2012 NBA draft.
He won't put on a nice suit with geek-chic glasses.
He won't shake commissioner David Stern's hand.
But most of all, he won't give his mother a kiss when his name is called.
That's because Johnson, a projected second-round draftee, experienced more tragedy before his 13th birthday than most people do in a lifetime, starting with the murder of his mother when he was an infant. He then moved in with his grandmother and 10 relatives only to lose that home to a house fire, which killed four family members. Five years later his grandmother died.
"Orlando has every reason in the world to be a bad kid," said older brother Robbie Johnson. "His life could have easily taken a turn for the worse. We just couldn't catch a break."
Johnson could have ended up on the steps of a foster home but his big brothers Robbie Johnson, 40, and Jamell Damon Sr., 36, stepped in to raise their then 11-year-old brother.
That was the first break Johnson caught to save his life.
His next big break will be at the NBA draft Thursday, if he is selected. Johnson's basketball résumé is impressive, but he still isn't a lock to be drafted.
Johnson holds all three major scoring records at the University of California Santa Barbara with 1,825 career points, 674 points in a season and 39 points in a game. He was also named the 2010 Big West Player of the Year, an All-American and was a member of Team USA at the 2011 World University Games.
However, his family says the most important thing he earned in college was his degree. Like many NBA prospects, Johnson flirted with the idea of leaving college early to enter the draft, but his non-traditional parental units would not accept that.
"My brothers took care of everything for me and my only job was to get my high school and college diploma," Johnson said.
Damon Sr. added, "When we sent him to a private high school and to UCSB the goal was always for him to get a college degree and be prepared for life academically. Going to the league is icing on the cake."
While Johnson's story of tragedy turned triumph precedes him, it has made him into a hard worker with tremendous leadership qualities.
"The things Orlando has gone through, while very unfortunate, have made him the player he is today," Robbie said. "They were blessings in disguise. His maturity and the overall good head on his shoulders are a product of his past. You aren't going to find that in many players."
UCSB coach Bob Williams added: "If I could tell NBA coaches and general managers one thing about Orlando it would be he's a great player and a great kid who is very coachable. He will be the hardest worker in your program and you can't ask for more."
Williams respects how the NBA champion Miami Heat's Big Three worked together, sometimes taking a lesser role, to win and he believes Johnson could do the same.
"He is about winning," Williams said.
With all the turmoil he's experienced, draft night will still be anxiety-filled for the kid who went from an unknown, then rocketed to a late first-round pick, and is now projected as a second-round pick.
"I just look forward to getting that call and knowing where I'm going from there on draft night," Johnson said. "I won't be having a big party just because I've seen that night not turn out so well for some people."
He will watch the draft from a hotel room near his hometown in Seaside, Calif., with family members. His brothers will separate Johnson from the rest of the family, until his name is called.
After speaking with the team that selects him, Johnson's brothers will have another conversation with the people who made their baby brother's journey possible.
Damon Sr. said, "When he's selected, I will just look up and thank my grandma and mother for ordering his steps, protecting and guiding him this far and to let them know we finally made it."