The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Flamboyant Curley "Boo" Tells Story Of Success

by Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher-Owner

"Curley "Boo" Johnson's colorful display of performing basketball, his "hot-dogging" around is something that was always in him, he told students as he spoke to K-8 at La Harpe Community School Friday morning and 4-12 at West Central High School.

His flamboyant style came from growing up a son of a Harlem Globetrotter, at least his dad was for three weeks until Curley's mom called him home from his world-wide traveling job, to be a father to their soon to be born daughter.

"Boo" said his father, (Curley Johnson, Sr.), grew up on the South side of Chicago and was an All City and All State Basketball player. His senior year his team was 32-0 and they went all the way to the state championship which ended in one of the most controversial games in the IHSA.

His father was the first black player at Bradley University in Peoria where he came to compete but also get an education. His dad led Bradley to their first National Championship in 1957 his Junior year, and after he graduated in "58, he played for the world famous Harlem Globetrotters.

Although his mom made him quit and he got a "real" job in Peoria, "Boo" said when ever the Harlem Globetrotters came nearby they would attend the games or several were invited to their home for a meal.

Every time they would teach "Boo" a new trick and he enjoyed their style of basketball.

As a result, when "Boo" was in 4th-5th grade, his style of basketball was different than all the other kids.

"I was flashy, I was flamboyant, I was cocky, unorthodox, and in my opinion, ahead of my time."

"I could get in a lot of trouble with coaches when I was 7, 8, 9 years of age for doing crazy stuff on the basketball court."

"The reason I was doing these things was because there was something inside me," Boo said.

"something that was inside me that was passed along to me by my dad and the showman of the Harlem Globetrotters."

Besides what he learned from his dad, the Globetrotters visit resulted in him learning something new each time, and he modeled his playing style after them.

His first taste of show-time was when he was playing in a church basketball league and his coach said, "Boo", get out there and stall the game and don't let them get the basketball.

So, he got out there and started dribbling all over the place and hot-dogging around and the crowd loved it, his parents loved it and started clapping, he finally made a fancy pass to his teammate who made the basket and they won the game.

During this part, Curley "Boo" had a young student come out and try to take the ball away from him, to demonstrate, and the students loved it.

He was being congratulated by everyone and his parents were happy and Curley got his first taste of show-time!

But his coach, said he didn't want to ever see him hot-doggin' around again or he wouldn't be playing on his league or on his all-star team so he had to stop.

Curley explained to that he was the best player all through Jr. High and leading scorer of anyone in his age group in Peoria and gained all kinds of trophies and recognitions, "I was the man! And I acted liked I was the man, too!"

"Boo" said he thought he was "King Basketball" and that he had it made. He stopped working on it and was distracted by football and baseball, and he started getting interest in girls and he didn't practice basketball very much. Then others started passing him by. He barely made the squad in high school.

The Varsity Coach came up to him the end of his Sophomore year and said "Boo, you'll never make Varsity."

Although he could handle the ball, his coach said he wasn't quick enough, he couldn't jump and he couldn't shoot.

"Boo" was afraid he might not be able to play the game he loved most, so he set out on a mission to devote everyday, no matter what, to becoming a better, jumper and shooter.

All summer long he would show up at the gym around noon on his own and run wind-sprints, work on his legs, then he would jump-jump-jump.

He kept jumping until he touched the net, then a week later he could touch the backboard, then a couple weeks later he could touch the rim and then he could jump above the rim and if someone threw the ball up, he could stuff it.

Each day around 2:00 the Bradley and Illinois State players came into the gym after "Boo" had already worked out for two hours and he would play basketball with them for two to three hours.

He made the Varsity squad his Junior year but sat on the bench the entire year.

"Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation."

Curley "Boo" said he was able to start his senior year and they went all the way to the state finals when they lost to Peoria Manual.

Curley said college recruiters were not interested in him. They'd say, "He's a good little guard but he can't shoot and we aren't interested in a guard that can't shoot."

So Curley "Boo" again, set out on a mission, to be a better shooter. He hit the gym every day all summer long, shooting 500 shots every day. His arms ached, he would get winded, his legs ached as he shot from every position. He would do this all by himself before anyone else came into the gym, and then the college players came in and he would play pickup ball with them two or three hours, working on his shot.

"So they say success occurs when opportunity meets preparation."

Boo played in a summer league but said no one would give him the ball, and the coach benched him.

The guy who was playing in front of him missed a game and "Boo" finally got to play.

A college coach from Spoon River was sitting in the crowd and came down and offered him a scholarship at his school.

It was his chance to prove he could play college basketball. He became an All American that year and shot 66% from the field making him 7th in the entire nation.

"And they said I couldn't shoot."

Boo said he finally got his little walk back, he was homecoming Prince and on the student Senate, and all the schools that didn't want him before were sending him letters asking him to come visit.

Everything was going well but his father came home from vacation and said he had a sore throat he could not get rid of and found out he had terminal cancer and was given about a year to live.

Everything changed for Boo in his recruiting process. He had attended a junior college his Sophomore year at Muscatine and competed against Southeastern College in West Burlington, IA, then he was set to go play for the Iowa Hawkeyes, but his father's last request was:

"Son, I want you to go play at a college where you can get your degree and an education rather than sell tickets for the school."

And then his father said, "Son, no matter how hard it gets, Never give up."

"Boo" went to visit Loras in Dubuque, Iowa, known as the little Harvard of the Midwest. The coach told him if he would sign to go there, they would make sure he got his degree, and some money to help his family and that he would play college basketball.

"Boo" replied: " Where do I sign?"

After a very successful senior year with Loras, where he averaged 26 points a game, Boo was ready to go to Chicago and "conquer the business world."

But The Loras coach called him into his office and to his surprise said he had been scouted by the Harlem Globetrotters and wanted to know if he would like to try out for their team.

His dream was in reach, so again he devoted his time away from his friend and turned it toward basketball.

His friends told him what he had heard all his life. That he was wasting his time, he was too small, not quick enough, not a good enough shooter, not good enough jumper, but he worked all day long, every day on his skills until he went to California and tried out for two spots against 75 other competitors and was able to get the position.

Again, he said, "Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation," and "Boo" was prepared.

Curley said his work paid off as he has traveled the world visiting 81 countries.

He has been blessed by the Pope, and by Mother Teresa, and has seen the Berlin Wall before and after its fall, the Great Wall of China, Australia, Greece, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Africa, Egypt, and he has been in a couple movies, commercials, has been on the Wheaties box, Larry King Live, Jay Leno, and other TV shows.

He's had amazing opportunity, but every year has worked hard to keep the only job he has ever had. He signed 18 times a one-year contract with the Harlem Globetrotters with no guarantees.

Curley interacted with the crowd all through his presentation. He had three teenagers on the floor as he played coach telling them what his father had taught him, to stay focused, not just in basketball but in life.

"You never know what may steal your dream away."

It could be alcohol, drugs, women, all kinds of distractions, but you have to keep focused.

You never know where it might be coming from, so you have to keep your eye on the ball, pay attention.

Then "Boo" would start whirling the ball around his arms and around his neck and back and toss it to an unsuspected location.

The person had to keep on his toes or he would be injured.

At La Harpe, "Boo" told the kids about visiting Canton prison to speak and a young man who was much more talented then he sat doing time. He started with alcohol, moved to marijuana, then cocaine, then theft and then stole everything out of his parents home while they were in church and finally got charged with grand thief.

He could had the world, but he let someone steal his dream. He was distracted by the peer pressure and temptations around him.

Boo also displayed his fantastic ball-handling skills, spinning the ball on his finger, behind his back throwing it and catching it on the back on his neck in a dead stop and throwing it high then catching it between his legs as he stands.

He dribbled playing keep-away with students, moving the ball between his legs, around his body, even laying on the floor.

He used two balls to juggle or to bounce at the same time and he demonstrated his one-on-one game with Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player there ever was in his estimation.

He displayed a couple moves he played on Jordan including an old Harlem Globetrotter trick where he put the ball between his knees and then pretend to go up and shoot, but without the ball.

Jordan flew clear over him and out of bounds and Boo tossed up the ball for a point.

The second shot arched way over Jordan and swish, into the basket for 2-0.

Jordan was not happy and was intense, and "Boo" said he should of took his gym bag and his girlfriend and went home because he never made another shot.

But, he said, there was only one person in that entire gym of 600 people that thought he could beat Jordan, and that was himself.

If you don't believe you can do it then you probably can't.

"Boo's theory in what brings an ordinary person to an unbelievable good life is.

„Believe in yourself „Work hard „Never give up „Don't let life's temptations distract you, such as alcohol, drugs, relationships, peer pressure, and to stay focused, and finally, be prepared, for success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.

Boo demonstrates with three students how they must keep focused in basketball and in life. You never know when the ball is coming. There are always distractions.

Boo demonstrates with Don Brent of Stronghurst, how little guys get the ball from big guys.

Curley Boo demonstrates his ball handling skills- throws the ball up and catches it on his back.

Part of "Boo's" ball handling dribbling strategy as he keeps the ball away during a demonstration with a West Central student not in the picture.

Sammi Haney spins the world on her finger with Boo.

Carter Wildrick almost has the ball, but Boo is too quick.

Curley "Boo" demonstrating his dribbling skills.

Curly "Boo" Johnson, signing autographs for students at La Harpe.