To watch RJ Godfrey play during the 2021-22 high school basketball season, it’s understandable if one comes away with the impression that he made it look easy.
Indeed, the numbers the North Gwinnett senior put up this season – 18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocked shots per game while shooting 67 percent from the floor – certainly seemed effortless at times.
But make no mistake, the 2021-22 Daily Post Boys Player of the Year put in a lot of work to achieve everything he got this season despite some pretty significant obstacles.
One of them was the late start to his season preparation due to an ankle injury that wiped out a good portion of his summer AAU season, though Godfrey said it had more of an impact on him emotionally than physically.
And in the end, he was able to make a positive out of it.
“It really changed me as a man,” Godfrey said. “After my injury, I was more positive and (easy) going about stuff because I could be in that situation again where I can’t walk or run around with my friends or get in the pool, and I started to value things more.
“I really don’t look at it as a (setback). I think God did it for a reason, and it really helps tell me who I am. … I really focused on myself, during that time, and really just tried to better myself spiritually… (and) as a person. ”
The other major obstacle Godfrey had to overcome this season was actually a product of his own success throughout his career.
As a consensus three-star prospect with multiple Power-Five conference college scholarship offers who eventually signed with Clemson, as well as a strong family legacy – he is the son of former Georgia standout and NFL All-Pro linebacker Randall Godfrey – Godfrey naturally got a lot of attention.
But those credentials also garnered him quite a bit of extra attention from opposing defenses.
“He averaged about 19 points a game on only 10 shots (per game),” North coach Matt Garner said. “If I had to guess, (that is) probably one of the lowest number (of shots) for a Gwinnett County Player of the Year in a long time. I mean, he played with some other talented guys for sure, but that’s all he got because he had to pass out of double teams a lot, and triple teams.
“We would laugh when we watched film because there were times when we’d be like, ‘Oh, there are four or five guys guarding RJ’ It’s literally what you had to (face) with certain teams. Not every team did that to us, but that’s what happened a lot during our season, no doubt about it. “
For his part, Godfrey didn’t actually mind the extra attention that much. In fact, it’s something the 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward embraced throughout the season.
“For sure, there were more double or triple teams coming compared to last year, I would say, just because I missed all summer because of my ankle,” Godfrey said. “And the first two games back, I played really good, and I think that really caught the attention of 3 other opponents. They knew I got bigger, faster and stronger than the year before. It’s always a cool feeling when you know other coaches and teams have respect for you. It’s kind of like an honor. “
Of course, as he also points out, he was helped out in dealing with that kind of attention tremendously by having a talented supporting cast to help make opponents pay when they chose to overcommit to stopping him.
It certainly came in handy during North’s 91-60 win over Cedar Shoals in December, which featured Godfrey’s 23-point, 10-rebound and 10-assist night, as well as Thomas Allard’s 43 points and school-record 13 3-pointers.
“It was really fun,” Godfrey said. “Every time I’d pass (the ball) out there (on the perimeter), there were guys like Thomas Allard, Dylan Gary, Gunnar Carlberg and other teammates to knock down a shot. I think one game, I put up a triple-double and (and) I had 10 assists, and it felt like Thomas just couldn’t miss. “
That performance was part of a season-long synergy that helped the Bulldogs achieve a 26-4 record, the Region 8-AAAAAAA championship and a third straight berth in the Class AAAAAAA state quarterfinals.
And even though the season came to an end earlier than he or his teammates preferred with a loss to eventual state champion Norcross, Godfrey was philosophical about North’s achievements throughout his career.
“All three years I played varsity, we lost in the Elite Eight,” Godfrey said. “That was kind of a downer, but Norcross, they work hard. I’m training with some of their players right now and they definitely did put in the work. “
Meanwhile, as far as Garner is concerned, there is no doubt how well Godfrey’s own legacy will hold up in the history of the Bulldogs’ program.
“I’ll tell you this. I think it’s debatable if he’s the most talented (player), “Garner said. “I think you would put him in the category with the most talented. You’ve got a few guys… like Major (Wingate), Ebuka Anyaorah, Ahmad Caver, who’s in the G-League right now. And there are other guys that you can definitely argue about who was more talented.
“But at the end of the day, when you talk about who’s meant the most to the program, and who’s done it for four years, because some of these guys weren’t necessarily here for four years, … there is nobody better When it comes to buying in, being a leader, being a culture changer. There is nobody better than (Godfrey). And I feel like it’s fair for me to make that assessment since I’ve been part of the program since 2000, whether I was playing or I was an assistant or head coach or whatever it is. “