By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Torino Johnson needed only one word to describe last week’s trip to Tunisia for the Afro Baskets Qualifying Tournament.
“It was epic,” he said. “That’s the only way to say it.”
The former Palisades High girls coach and current women’s basketball head coach at Cal State Los Angeles traveled to Central Africa, where he served as an assistant for the Nigerian Men’s National Team. For him, the fun began even before he arrived at his destination.
“First, the trip began with a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Paris,” Johnson explained upon returning safely to the Southland. “I was so reflective… I had both grandfathers who fought in war and flying into Paris made me think about them both as I was able to sit in the airport and do absolutely nothing because of their sacrifice and commitment to improving my life.”
On a staff that included numerous NBA and G-League coaches, Johnson helped Nigeria to a 3-0 record in its group, with victories over South Sudan (75-70), Rwanda (64-51) and Mali (76-56). The team next goes to Tokyo, Japan for the Olympics in July, though Johnson does not yet know if he will be able to join it. He spent Monday with former NBA All-Star Baron Davis and his phone has been ringing practically nonstop since he has been back.
“I didn’t realize what a big deal this is and I’m thrilled to see where this goes,” he added. “This trip was life changing for me. I never imagined I’d be coaching Nigeria and be afforded such a beautiful opportunity by the Nigerian Federation. My CSLA collegiate basketball season was sidelined due to Covid 19 which also played a part in my ability to coach the team. This appointment gave me a chance to get better as a coach as I was surrounded by master teachers. I was tasked with our team defense and our coaching staff meetings at breakfast were dynamic, as we discussed practice and game strategy. I had to learn a different basketball language and it was sink or swim—our staff meetings were vivid and succinct—and the video editing was just invigorating. We stayed at Tui Magic Life Skanes in Monastir. I rode a horse for the first time on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and I fell off, but I had delicious meals with wonderful people and we won all of our games and head into Tokyo with a renewed focus on winning a medal with a roster full of dynamic and skilled players. Go team Naija!”
Johnson coached 10 seasons at Pali High, leading the Dolphins to seven state playoff berths, four league titles and four City championships. He was named City Coach of the Year four times and was Cal-Hi Sports’ 2016 Division I State Coach of the Year. He resigned from Pali High after the 2016-17 season and became an assistant under Cheryl Miller at CSLA. He was named head coach of the women’s program in August 2019 and the Golden Eagles went 12-16 in his first season.
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