New head coach for the San Juan High School boys basketball team
by Rhett Sifford
San Juan High School boys basketball fans will see a different face in the coaching box this winter.
Johnny Slavens is the new head coach, following in the footsteps of Coach Travis Black. Black resigned after leading the Broncos to a state championship in March.
When few people applied for the position, Blanding native Slavens stepped up to fill the gaping hole. He and his family relocated from Dallas, TX where he was a certified public accountant.
The San Juan graduate is no stranger to Blanding residents. Although most who know him would probably consider him more of a football guy he certainly has some basketball blood too.
His grandfather LaRay Alexander was the first basketball coach in San Juan High School history and was at the helm when the Grayson Ward won the LDS All-Church Basketball Championship in 1954. His uncle Richard Perkins was the MVP of that team and went on to play basketball for Brigham Young University (BYU).
Slavens played for BYU also, as a cornerback on the football team from 1995 to 1998. He was a football, basketball, and track athlete while attending San Juan High from 1989 to 1993. He also ran for Congress in Texas in 2016.
This won’t be his first run at coaching either. He was an assistant football coach under former Bronco coach Art Burtenshaw at Ben Lomond High School and coached several youth football, basketball, and baseball teams while his family was in Texas.
For the past couple years, Slavens has been working alongside Jimmy Johnson coaching the basketball team that is entering fifth-grade this season.
Right at the beginning of our first conversation, Slavens emphasized that it’s going to be a group effort to coach San Juan boys basketball. While accepting the coaching position he said it was up in the air whether he was going be the actual head coach or if it would be Jeff Johnson.
“Really what it came down to is that Jeff has the knowledge and experience and I have the time,” expressed Slavens. “At the end of the day, he and I are going to do it together and any success we’re going to have is based on that.”
Along with that duo, the 2022-23 San Juan boys basketball coaching staff is bolstered by a number of highly capable assistants. Mike Brown, the Broncos’ first football MVP, will handle the JV team.
Easton Nielson, a former Monticello basketball state champion and MVP, will coach a freshman squad that is expected to make some serious noise when they reach the varsity level. And Ryan Palmer, who Slavens describes as a “big, huge, ferocious guy,” will coach the team’s “bigs.”
The Broncos are basically starting from scratch since eight players from the state championship squad graduated just a few weeks ago.
“Nobody expects us to be good but I think we may surprise some people,” said Coach Slavens. “We have five seniors and five juniors who are very athletic.”
Slavens and his staff have instituted a program called “Know the Score, Play to Win” that emphasizes four main aspects of the game.
The team will focus on winning the turnover battle, beating their opponents in field goal percentage, getting more offensive rebounds, and free throw shooting – getting to the line more often and shooting at least 75 percent.
Slavens explained, “To be successful in basketball, you have to shoot and dribble all year. It’s not a sport where you can just show up and play.”
To that end, he instituted a dribbling and shooting program that requires a 30-minute workout every day from now until November for any players who are willing to take the challenge.
Players are already getting plenty of on-court action also. Recently the coaching staff took a freshman team, two JV teams, and a varsity team to a tournament at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO where they played a very successful 40 games in 72 hours.
Though the season is still a few months away, Coach Slavens said he’s excited to get underway in earnest. “I think the players are hungry,” he explained. “Some of them tasted [success last season] and some even got to play a little bit.”
He, his fellow coaches, the players, their parents, and Bronco fans hope they’ll get another taste of it this season.