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Johnson to play basketball at Oregon Tech

As someone who never played organized basketball until the ninth grade, Alan Johnson never dreamt of playing collegiately.

But after a strong senior season at South Medford High that earned him a reputation as one of the top defenders in the Southern Oregon Conference, Johnson signed a letter-of-intent last week with Oregon Tech.

Two North Medford volleyball players also have signed with NAIA schools in the Pacific Northwest. Middle blocker Chaley Higgins will play at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, while outside hitter Beth Rathburn earned a scholarship to Northwest College in Kirkland, Wash.

Johnson, a 6-foot-4 small forward, averaged just seven points per game for South Medford this season, but he routinely guarded the opponent's top perimeter player and finished among the team leaders in rebounding (3.4), assists (2.4) and steals (1.6).

Johnson also shot 50 percent from the field in helping the Panthers to a 24-3 record and the SOC championship.

"He's an efficient player who does a lot of good things," Oregon Tech coach Dan Miles says. "He's a player who helps you win in a variety of ways.

"I saw them (South Medford) play twice this year and he must have been on the floor seven or eight times chasing the ball or taking charges."

Miles compares Johnson to former North Medford High player Josh Woodson, who finished his career at Oregon Tech last season after helping the Owls to 112 victories over a four-year span that included three trips to the national tournament.

"Josh wasn't a real flashy player in high school, either," says Miles, who has posted a 677-316 record in 31 seasons at Oregon Tech and is the winningest college basketball coach in state history. "But we got a lot of mileage out of him because of all the little things he did to help us win.

"We think Johnson is a similar player."

Johnson, who carries a 3.8 grade-point average, will pick up some academic aid to go with his athletic scholarship. He plans to major in civil engineering.

"I'm really excited about this," says Johnson, who is turning his attention this spring to the South Medford golf team. "Until these last few weeks, I never saw myself playing college basketball."

Higgins, meanwhile, figures to be a strong addition to SOU's already-strong program.

The 6--1 middle was a three-year varsity performer at North Medford and earned first-team all-conference accolades last season.

Higgins was also being recruited by Northern Arizona, a Division I school, but wanted to stay close to home.

"Staying close to home was a big plus and I really like the coach at SOU," said Higgins, referring to Paul Elliott. "And the volleyball program there has really taken off."

The Raiders posted a 23-10 record last season, won a regional championship and advanced to a national volleyball tournament for only the second time in school history.

Rathburn landed a scholarship at Northwest College despite missing much of her senior year due to a sprained ankle.

"I was backpedaling during a drill on the first day of conditioning camp and my ankle rolled under me," says Rathburn. "It was so disappointing because I had just run a marathon two days before and was in the best shape of my life.

"It was a battle all season long and I never really got back to 100 percent."

But there was no disputing Rathburn's talent, and with coach Ron Beick's help she found herself being recruited by not only Northwest College but also Seattle University, Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., and Concordia University in Irvine, Calif.

Rathburn plans to major in either business or youth ministry, and minor in the other.

With SOU and Northwest College both competing in the Cascade Conference, Rathburn and Higgins - best friends and volleyball teammates since the sixth grade - will be on opposite sides of the court next fall.

"I can't wait for that," Rathburn says. "I've already told her that none of her blocks will touch any of my hits."

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail