But when the boys came to love the game as much as their father did, Joe taught them to play it the way he wished he'd learned it -- completely and thoroughly.
In the summers, the boys would go to California where he lives (their mother, Michelle, still calls Arizona home) for dad's mini-boot camps. They'd work on ballhandling and shooting, defense and passing. Pretty much everything except dunking.
There wasn't anything fancy to Joe's methods, no secret drills or crazy schemes. He simply culled together things he'd picked up over the years, lessons learned from coaches, teammates and his own big brother.
"I stopped playing when [older son] Chris was about 15. That was enough for me,'' Joe said. "I'd sit on the sides and bark an instruction or two, but then they'd start their own battling.''
Theirs is the traditional brothers-as-athletes story, one in which the pickup games more often ended in arguments and a mother's intervention. But beneath the rivalry was genuine respect, which is why when Chris decided this summer to transfer out of Cal State San Bernardino, Nick begged, and eventually persuaded, his coach to bring Chris to campus.
Chris is a walk-on at Arizona now. He's played in just three games for the Wildcats, but don't discount his contribution to the team's success. He has picked up where he left off with his kid brother, pushing him and prodding him to work harder and be better.
What Joe Johnson started with Nick, Chris is now finishing. When Miller's practices end, sometimes Chris' begin, with the two brothers heading to the gym after dinner for extra shooting.
"No one can push you like your head coach,'' Chris said. "But [Nick] still listens to me and relates to me. Anyone who has a little brother knows what it's like. It's kind of like muscle memory. This is what we did every day growing up.''
Joe has happily receded to the sidelines, his work as a coach done. His job now is to take the boys fishing. Joe got hooked on commercial fishing a while back, and he's passed the passion to both Chris and Nick.
They try to swing one deep-sea fishing excursion as schedules allow, even traveling to Mexico to fish for tuna. Joe might remain the best jumper in the family and Nick the most all-around player, but Chris is the best fisherman.
The last thing they usually talk about is basketball.
That, though, is all for the summer and the offseason. Right now, all anyone is talking about is basketball, with Arizona pointing its aim toward a top seed in the NCAA tournament and, potentially, a run for a national title.
And with Nick Johnson, the complete player with the all-around game, leading the Wildcats' charge.
"To hear people talking about Nick the way they are, and recognizing him for the things that we worked on, it gives me such a good feeling,'' Joe Johnson said. "I know I did the right thing for him. I did right by him.''