Nothin' But Net

An obsession with basketball takes CBC seniors Ryan Johnson and D.J. Hogue through a successful -- but heartbreaking -- season

"It would've been nice," says Lee Hogue of his son's playing in his hometown. "SLU in his junior year had a lot of interest, but that disappeared. Southwest Missouri State had interest. Over the course of the recruiting process, things can go one way or another."

At this point, D.J. Hogue's two clearest options for playing at the Division I level are a pair of smaller programs: Jackson State and North Carolina A&T. The soft-spoken, amiable Hogue says, "Those are my two best choices. I plan on making a decision in April. I'll look at my situation and see where I stand.

"A lot is where I can go in and play," he adds, echoing the thoughts of many prep standouts. "I wouldn't want to go in and wait until my junior year. I want to go straight in and compete. And make my parents happy -- it's not all their choice, but I like them to have an interest in it." (Hogue's family -- not just father Lee but also mother Donna and sisters Lauren, 11, and Erica, 4 -- made it to virtually every game.)

Lee Hogue says, "I think D.J. will be taken care of. Several different schools are interested, but he hasn't even made his visits and, obviously, hasn't signed yet. I haven't seen that pressure, so to speak. Coming into this year, he had to fit in where he could fit in. Maybe there was more pressure that way."

Unlike McCormack, Lee Hogue believes that D.J. doesn't put pressure on himself but simply expects to excel. "It's different," he says, "how he's playing now than at the beginning or middle of the year. D.J. wants to do well. He expects himself to do well; he's always competed at the top level. He's made the nationals in AAU. He's only lost six, seven games during his freshman-to-junior years."

Playing at the "top level" is almost a mantra among the better prep players. And that means a scholarship to a Division I school. All season -- for a couple of seasons, really -- that's been Hogue's goal.

"I've always wanted to play Division I," Hogue admits. "I always wanted to be one of the best. But if a Division II school suits me right -- if they could help go to Division I in two years, if they could prepare me for that -- I'd do it."

One of the funniest debates heard in a gym this winter came when CBC was playing its archrival, St. Louis University High. It was the second of three times they'd face each other, with CBC getting its only win in this one, 59-47, capturing the Fontbonne Tournament title.

A few rows back from the bench, two SLUH fans wondered aloud about Ryan Johnson's tattoos. He's certainly not the only member of the team who has them: Hogue features one on each arm, and reserves Rick Wallace and Jeremy Jones -- the only two players who wouldn't finish the year with the team -- also have some good-sized inkings. But Johnson's tattoos are larger, more detailed and simply greater in quantity than most folks', let alone high-school kids'.

On his right arm, reaching nearly from elbow to shoulder, is a tattoo that features what seems like a slice of hell, eyes peering from the subterranean world. On top of it, an Atlas-like figure holds the Earth, with the inscription "PUT THE WORLD ON MY SHOULDERS" above it. To the SLUH fans it looked, alternately, like a mushroom cloud, a flaming skull or, believe it or not, a carrot.

"It's not a carrot," says Johnson, only mildly irritated, with a half-smile. "I know what's on me. I know the meanings behind getting them."

Both he and his mom, Linda Askew, remember going to the tattoo parlor for the first time; he'd turned 15 the day before. "It snowballed from there," says Askew. "He started sneaking them in on me; a couple of times he told me. One time, he came in the room and said he got one of me. I don't know. He hasn't got any more room unless he grows."

Johnson offers a simple explanation for his tattoos: "Larry, Justin and I spend a lot of time together and got into it. It's fun. It's something I enjoy. Why not?."

"Larry" is Larry Hughes, captain of the CBC team that took the state's large-school 4A title two years ago. After a single spectacular year with SLU, Hughes left college hoops behind to play with the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA. "Justin" is Justin Tatum, Johnson's cousin, a sophomore power forward at SLU. Together, the three -- along with shooting guard Mark Stricker, who just completed his freshman year at UM-Kansas City -- spearheaded one of the best local high-school basketball teams of this decade, the 1997 state-title team.

Hughes, in particular, made an impact.
"He sets a new standard, obviously," says Grawer. "Most high-school players think they're pretty good, but Larry Hughes was just a level above any player I've had the chance to coach. He raises the standards. He raises expectations, too. You get spoiled."

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