Dec. 9, 2002

by Jessica Summers
OU Athletics Media Relations

NORMAN, Okla. - Quicker with the hand than the eye can see, OU sophomore Blake Johnston can amaze with his tricks on and off the court.

The 6-1 guard from Midland, Texas, might wow opponents with his flashy play, no-look passes and amazing quickness, but most people don't know about his adept magician skills when he's not playing basketball.

Johnston's passion for magic began in high school when he learned a variety of card tricks.

"I was in 10th grade and one of my friends showed me a trick," says Johnston. "After that, somehow I learned all these card tricks and everyone seemed to get a kick out of them. For a while, whenever there were cards around I would do a trick."

Once he arrived on the OU campus, it didn't take long for Johnston to begin fooling his Sooner teammates. His first year at Oklahoma he unveiled a deck of cards and showcased his skills while the team was at a tournament in Hawaii. Numerous players and staff members fell victim to his multiple tricks in airports and on bus trips across the Big Island.

Johnston said he knows more than 15 card tricks, but has one standby that he uses on everyone. He keeps a deck with him wherever he goes and has since shown his magic to people at parties, to classmates and to various friends when he goes out. Last year Johnston even tricked a couple of television cameramen during interviews the day before the Final Four in Atlanta.

Johnston says he performs the tricks because he enjoys watching people light up when he entertains them. According to the point guard, the team's three true freshmen will soon be targeted as they have yet to witness his slight of hand.

While Johnston makes many smile with his quick tricks, he leaves basketball opponents confused with his quickness and smothering defense. However, Johnston knows that trying to be too much of a magician on the hardwood can get him into trouble.

"I guess you could say I'm a magician on and off the court," says Johnston, "but I try to limit my tricks on the court. I think my game reflects a little bit of my magician skills but doing tricky stuff isn't always a high percentage way to go about things."

Johnston's role on the Sooner squad doesn't always mean being the superstar wizard. While he isn't a starter, he knows his sixth-man role is extremely important. Johnston says he thinks his job is to be an enthusiastic, energetic spark plug for the team. Last year as a redshirt freshman he averaged 1.7 points and 1.2 assists while shooting .455 (10-for-22) from three-point land in 7.9 minutes per outing. His numbers have improved this season as his playing time has increased.

"Our starters get in and play hard and start to wear down after 10 to 12 minutes," says Johnston. "I just feel like I need to go in there and be fresh to provide energy and get the team going again. That is very important and I take pride in that."

While his life might seem to be all fun and games, it hasn't always been. When Johnston was 12, he was handed a wild card - he was in a car with his brother and parents when it crashed. Johnston's father, Byron, died. Johnston says that moment was a turning point in his life.

"The wreck made me grow up real fast. We had to make our family work with the three of us," Johnston said. "It brought us closer together."

Johnston highly respects his father and says his most prized possession is a picture of him.

"I'm the person I am today because of him," says Johnston. "He's a disciplinary guy, but a great father. He taught me to be respectable, taught me manners and taught me a lot about life. I'm sorry I couldn't spend more years with him because I learned so much from him and I am so thankful I was able to grow up with him."

Johnston says his mother and brother have continued to have a big influence on his life. His mom, Jan, makes time to come up once a month to Norman to see her son. Johnston says she has the same outlook on life that his dad did and she is a big reason why Johnston is where he is today.

Johnston's brother, Clay, 24, was in critical condition for quite some time following the car crash. Johnston says his brother is a tough, strong person because he survived the accident and currently battles diabetes and a heart condition. Clay lives in Oklahoma City and the brothers see each other at least once a week.

"We are real close," Johnston said. "We talk a lot about basketball and everything. He's a really good mentor to me. He always does the right thing and I am glad he's here so he can help me out."

Despite some difficult personal experiences, Johnston has managed to hold his deck together quite well. He earned a perfect 4.0 GPA his freshman year and was named a first-team Academic All-Big 12 selection following last season. Because of his skills and academics, it is easy to see why Johnston was approached by more than a few schools about scholarships coming out of Midland High School. He chose Oklahoma over Baylor, Boston College, Texas and Vanderbilt. He says he knew he would fit right in at OU.

"I thought it was a neat place and good atmosphere," says Johnston. "Oklahoma, as a university, was coming up in athletics and academics. I like the people around here and I wanted to come to a place where we would win. I knew with Coach Sampson and the team at Oklahoma that it would happen. I didn't want to put in the time and not get rewarded for it. I wanted to surround myself with good people."

Now that Johnston is at Oklahoma, the Sooners hope to take another magical ride back to the Final Four.