Damen Johnson said he had no idea where Roanoke was located when the U.S. Navy was preparing to transfer him from New York to Virginia four years ago.
“They placed me in Roanoke,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know where Roanoke was. Then I Googled it, and it was like the Lost Colony or something like that.”
He feels more at home now.
Monday, he was hired as the new girls head basketball coach at Roanoke Catholic.
A Texas native, Johnson has experience as a one-on-one basketball trainer and as a coach with the Roanoke-based BRHHM AAU girls basketball program.
His previous work as a girls coach at an organized level was at an elementary school in New York.
Johnson played high school basketball in Fort Worth, Texas. He earned a scholarship to TCU before leaving the school during his freshman year for Wiley College, an NAIA school in Marshall, Texas. He also spent three seasons with the semi-pro Texas RedHawks.
Johnson said he left college to join the Navy, where he has served for the last 17 years.
Johnson said his travels with the Navy enabled him to view basketball on a variety of levels.
“I played semi-pro and I was with the Chicago Bulls practice team,” he said. “The military was what made all those things possible. Every time I was stationed at a different duty station, it would present another opportunity.”
Johnson is currently stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and will not return to Roanoke until September.
He said his work as Roanoke Catholic’s coach will not be disrupted by further requirements by the Navy.
“I’m actually here doing this so that I can ensure that I will be in Roanoke,” Johnson said. “The military has made it so I can stay in Roanoke and get my full retirement. In return, they asked that I come to [Camp Lejeune].”
Johnson fills the vacancy created when Allison Morgan resigned to accept a teaching position at Staunton River Middle School. Morgan said she will coach in Staunton River’s girls program, where her father, John Huddleston, is in his second year temporarily filling in for head coach Kim Jones.
Roanoke Catholic finished 15-9 in 2016-17, losing to eventual champion Carlisle in the second round of the VIS Division III state tournament.
Johnson saw the Celtics play several games last year when his stepdaughter was briefly part of the varsity roster.
He will not have the services this season of standout Grace Taylor, who is transferring to Lord Botetourt. Johnson also said he is looking for an assistant coach.
“I understand it to be a building process,” he said.
Johnson owns a home in Roanoke, and his family is entrenched in the community.
Johnson said he has worked in the Outdoor Basketball League promoted by Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea. Johnson also has a background in hip-hop music, participating in the production of “Crossing Streets,” a movie filmed in Roanoke in 2014.
“The people in Roanoke are amazing,” he said. “Everyone embraced us, and I decided I would retire in Roanoke and stay in Roanoke. It looks like I won’t be leaving.”
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