MOUNTAIN OF A MAN Layton Johns Remembered as a Gentle Giant, By
Lori Dann, Special to The Brantley Enterprise Jan. 9, 2003
Larry Chapman and Layton Johns grew up 40 miles apart in the
small Georgia towns of Ludowici and Nahunta. They first met on the basketball
court as high school seniors in 1959, when they played on opposing teams in the
Savannah Morning News Christmas Tournament. Its a meeting Chapman says he will
When I shook his hand before the game, it felt like I was grabbing a shovel,
said Chapman, who has been the head basketball coach at Auburn
University-Montgomery for 25 years. It was like he was the Jolly Green Giant.
But he looked down at me so approvingly and with such admiration that it
Not long after the game, which Chapmans team won, the 6-foot-7 Johns signed a
scholarship with Auburn. When Coach Joel Eaves asked him if he had played against
a good guard who might also be willing to sign with the Tigers, Johns recommended
the scrappy guard from Ludowici. Eaves followed up on the recommendation and signed
Chapman, which was the start of a lifelong friendship. The two players went on to lead
Auburn to a 51-17 record in three seasons, including a 29-13 mark in SEC play.
Layton Johns was the reason I came to Auburn, and I'll forever be grateful to
him for that, Chapman said. He was a gift in my life. God blessed me by
letting me know him. Chapman was saddened to learn that his former college roommate was
in poor health. I talked to his daughter Beth (Squires) a couple of weeks ago, and she
told me Hospice was coming in, he said. It just broke my heart.
Chapman contacted several other former Auburn players including Rex Frederick,
Bill Ross, and John Blackwell, and planned to visit Johns on Saturday, June 10th.
They never made the trip. The day before, the former two-time All-SEC center died
at the age of 60 following a year-long battle with lung cancer. He was buried three days
later in Nahunta, with several of his former teammates in attendance.
When I think of Layton, the first thing I think about is his smile, said Blackwell,
a guard/forward in the early 1960s who also roomed with Johns and Chapman.there was a
seriousness about, but he was also so good natured and he was always able to put
people at ease. He was a mountain of a man and extremely strong because he grew up a logger.
But if he was your friend, he was always your friend. I really do miss Layton.
Johns weighed 225 pounds and was an intimidating presence in the paint; He
averaged a double-double his final two seasons, tallying 15 points and 12.5
rebounds per contest as a senior. We should all kiss Layton's feet because he made all the coaches
better coaches and all the players better players, Chapman said. He was special.
He could really jump, and in our shuffle offense, he had to be able to shoot, cut, catch
and run too. If we had thrown the ball to him as much as they do now, because of the shot clock,
theres no telling what he would have done.
Blackwell recalls an incident in practice which demonstrated Johns pure
strength. The big center broke free and was going in for a lay up, and Blackwell decided
not to allow him to get off the shot. He grabbed both of Johns arms and pulled down, only to
see him break through and bank the ball in for two points. I was shocked, Blackwell
said. He just smiled down at me with that look like, Try to stop me. He was just so strong. We
used to get into wrestling matches in our room, and I never won a one.
Despite Johns personal success at Auburn, Chapman said he remained the same
humble country boy at heart. Not to under estimate his athleticism and strength, but the
biggest thing about Layton was who he was, Chapman said. He was a real warrior. We never had to sweat
whether he would stand up and compete, regardless of where he was playing. He had such a tremendous
heart, and he made all of us feel like we were more important than him.
After his Auburn career, Johns was selected in the fourth round of the 1963 NBA Draft by
the Lakers. But he bypassed professional basketball, opting instead to become a banker and owner of several
restaurants. Chapman said doctors discovered the cancer when Johns went to Emory University in Atlanta to have
hip replacement surgery about a year ago. He fought it the best he could, and was always upbeat,
Chapman said. He knew he had cancer, but he stayed positive. He was such a dreamer.