By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Torino Johnson has always considered coaching to be an ongoing process. Each job is a new opportunity to learn. Last week he took another step up the ladder and showed that in his profession, who you know can be just as important as what you know.
The former Palisades High pilot and current women’s basketball head coach at Cal State Los Angeles journeyed to Tunisia for the Afro Baskets Qualifying Tournament, serving as an assistant for the Nigerian Men’s National Team under head coach Mike Brown, who was unable to make the trip because of Golden State Warriors duties.
“I continue to climb and I get teary-eyed just thinking about it,” Johnson said. “It’s such a blessing. When I was still an assistant at CSLA I went to Golden State training camp. [Pali High alum] Steve Kerr got me in and I was able to develop a relationship with Mike Brown. We’ve stayed in touch since then and during the pandemic I was able to interact with him on Zoom. I pride myself on not taking anything for granted, on being humble and being a double-eared listener. So when he offered me this opportunity to be in his staff for this… I mean, you don’t even dream of these things. I’m still in shock and thankful to Coach Brown and the Nigerian Basketball Federation. We’re representing more than a team, but a country and an entire continent.”
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). Not bad considering Johnson did not even meet the players until arriving in Africa ahead of Wednesday’s opening game.
“We’ve brought in our best recruiting class in years [at CSLA] but since my program has opted not to have a season due to the pandemic, this other door opened up to me,” Johnson said. “I’m still a young coach, I’m still learning but I’ve had great mentors like John Wooden, George Raveling and now Mike Brown . I coach everyone. My door is always open to my players—past or present. Mentoring doesn’t have an age. I’m so in love with life!”
In 10 seasons at Pali High, Johnson turned the girls program into a City Section powerhouse. He led the Dolphins to seven state playoff berths, four league championships and four City titles (back-to-back Division II crowns in 2010 and 2011 and back-to-back Open Division crowns in 2015 and 2016. He was named City Coach of the Year four times and was Cal-Hi Sports’ 2016 Division I State Coach of the Year.
Also a coach for USA Basketball, Johnson resigned from Palisades after the 2016-17 season and accepted an assistant coach position on Cheryl Miller’s staff at CSLA. He was promoted to head coach of the women’s program in August 2019 and posted a 12-16 record in his first season with the Golden Eagles.
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