FORT MYERS, Fla. — JaJuan Johnson had that look.
He drained a contested jump shot from the left wing to extend Southwind’s (Memphis) lead over Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas) Wednesday at the City of Palms Classic, then turned to the Lions’ defender, shook his head and smiled.
After a steal, Johnson hit his next defender with a quick hesitation move, then skied for a monster dunk over the top of another Prestonwood player, which sent the crowd into a frenzy.
At that point, “It. Was. On!”
“I had to let em’ know,” said Johnson, a Marquette signee. “It was time to start talking then. I’m the king of trash-talk. Certain situations call for it. When I dunked on that guy, it had to start up. That’s just how it goes.”
For better or worse, trash-talk is as much a part of basketball as dunks and free throws, and with prestige and bragging rights on the line at the City of Palms Classic this week, emotion and jawing has been at an all-time high.
“We all just want to come out and win this thing,” said Tifton County (Tifton, Ga.) shooting guard Brannen Greene, a Kansas signee. “It happens over the course of a game, but most of the time no one really means anything by it. No big deal.”
Some coaches share Greene’s sentiments, some are adamantly opposed to it and, although no one concedes to initiating it, nearly all players admit to participating.
"If trash-talk gets you rattled then basketball probably isn't your sport," Johnson said. "Everyone does it."
Trash-talk can range from the really sarcastic to the really cynical, but it typically yields some degree of truth.
“You don’t tell a guy who’s got 30 points in the first half that you’ve got him on lock,” Lake Highland Prep (Orlando) point guard Joel Berry said. “It’s like if you get a five-second count on a guy then you can say you’ve got him on lock, even if it was just for that play. It’s like an unwritten rule, I guess. Everybody has different rules when it comes to trash-talking.”
There is, however, one constant.
"You better be able to back it up," said Prestonwood Christian point guard Marquan Botley. “Can’t have some dude who can’t play talking crazy to someone who’s out there ballin’. Come on now.”
But even that rule is broken sometimes.
Even the most elite players have to put up with unproductive motor-mouths.
Take Whitney Young (Chicago) center Jahlil Okafor, a 6-foot-11, 280-pound slab of man with overwhelming strength and more post moves than he can attempt to use in a game.
Okafor, a preseason American Family Insurance ALL-USA selection who is ranked No. 2 in the ESPN 60, is dropping 30 points and 10 rebounds a game this season and still, despite his dominance, opposing team’s don’t hesitate to engage in a flurry of verbal assaults during games.
"Sometimes it’s like, ‘C’mon man! Are you serious?'” Okafor said.
Last week, Okafor scored 31 points in a 99-32 win over Douglass Academy (Chicago), but the only thing the 67-point win did for the trash-talk was made it more inventive.
“They were saying things like, ‘Yeah, but y’all had to show us why you’re ranked so high',” Okafor said. “I’m not really sure what that meant, but they kept it going. It got funny after a while. I talk a little depending on who it is or I might just point at the scoreboard."
That’s what Montverde (Fla.) coach Kevin Boyle said he would opt for rather than firing back with a slick one-liner.
“You don’t want to get involved in trash-talk because it almost always starts something negative,” Boyle said. “You may be doing it all in fun, but the other guy may not have the same self control. This is an emotional game and when you’re not playing well, the last thing you want to hear is someone yelling in your ear reminding you they’re killing you. Anything could happen.”
Still, while he doesn’t encourage it, Huntington (W.Va.) Prep coach Rob Fulford isn’t convinced that trash-talk is that serious.
He said as long as it’s done in good taste and in good fun “it’s a part of the game.”
That's the general consensus among players as well.
"Most of us are cool with each other from AAU and different camps," said Huntington Prep swingman Montaque Gill-Caesar. "So we’re not out there beefing or anything serious like that. The best way to shut a guy up is to go out there and play as hard as you can."
A fail-proof plan for success, no matter the chatter.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSATODAY.