For a while, the National Junior College Athletic Association kept the dreams of future BYU basketball player Spencer Johnson alive.
Johnson helped lead Salt Lake Community College to a 29-4 record and the No. 4 seed in the NJCAA Tournament, set for this week in Hutchinson, Kansas.
While the NCAA canceled its winter championships due to concerns over the COVID-19 virus, the NJCAA initially postponed its tournament until April 20. SLCC first-year coach Kyle Taylor said he was going to give his players a couple of weeks off to go home then would bring them back to prepare for a tournament run.
On Monday, the NJCAA canceled its basketball championships and its spring sports.
“This hurts,” Johnson said in a social media post. “Sorry to see it go down this way. We didn’t get a chance to win the national championship, but we ended as champions! Salt Lake will forever be part of my story! Thanks to everyone who made my time here so unforgettable.”
Johnson’s story began at American Fork, where he teamed with future Marquette star Brendan Bailey. Bailey averaged 20 points per game and Johnson 19.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 2016. The Cavemen lost in the 5A quarterfinals to Bingham and future BYU star Yoeli Childs and the Miners went on to claim the state championship.
Johnson signed with Weber State before serving a two-year mission in Milan, Italy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When he returned, he spent the 2018 fall semester in Ogden and redshirted. He opted to transfer to Utah Valley in the spring of 2019 to play for Mark Pope. Pope later took the BYU job so Johnson decided to transfer to SLCC that summer.
In October of 2019, Johnson committed to Pope for the second time with the intent of joining the Cougar program for the 2020-21 season.
“I feel like we’ve always been pretty tight,” Johnson said. “We talked all the time. I can’t say enough good things about the BYU coaching staff. Each coach has something that I admire and love. There is so much positivity with how they are with the players. Their drive and will to win, they’ll do whatever it takes.”
A junior college roster is quite dynamic and usually includes a variety of freshmen and Division I transfers. Taylor said he was glad to sign Johnson but as the roster took form wasn’t sure what his role would be.
Johnson seized the opportunity to become a key cog for the Bruins.
“He’s been terrific all fall and during the season,” Taylor said. “He’s one of our best two players. He’s played at a really high level all season long. He scores at all three levels and can score in so many ways. And he’s been really good for us defensively. With Spencer, Justice Hill and Christian Popoola, I really believe we have the best defensive backcourt in the country. Spencer is second on the team in steals, gets into the passing lanes and rebounds the ball well.”
The Bruins started the season slowly, finishing with a 2-3 record at a jamboree in Colorado in October. SLCC began the regular season 3-2 but has gone 26-2 since and hasn’t lost in 2020 (15-0). The Bruins topped Snow College 84-81 on Feb. 29 for the Region 18 Tournament title and then routed Eastern Arizona 101-73 on March 7 for the District 1 Championship.
The SLCC women’s basketball team defeated College of Southern Idaho 70-51 for the Region 18 Tournament title on Feb. 29 and was slated to appear in the NJCAA Tournament as well. SLCC officials prepared a special sendoff event last Thursday and that’s where the two programs were celebrating when news began to emerge about cancellations.
Johnson’s younger brother, Isaac, was a 6-foot-11 four-star recruit from American Fork who signed with the University of Oregon. He’s currently serving an LDS Church mission to Columbus, Ohio. Spencer Johnson said his brother was working on the Ohio State campus but was emergency transferred when the school shut down because of the coronavirus.
“He’s doing well and staying out there,” Johnson said.
Johnson finished second on the team in scoring (13.2) while averaging five rebounds per game. He shot 49% from the field and 37% from the 3-point line.
“It has been a really great year,” Johnson said. “We came in with really high expectations. As a team we had to figure out how to play with each other because our whole roster was new and we’d never played with each other. It took a little while to get some flow and get us going, but I’ve loved it.”
Now, instead of finishing off his career at the NJCAA Championships, the 6-5 Johnson will work to get prepared to play in a BYU uniform this fall.
“The way I’ve always kind of approached the game of basketball and the way I’m feeling, no matter where we are or what we’re doing there is always a ball and a court I can go play on,” Johnson said. “For me personally, I always want to be ready. I always want to be in tip-top shape and showing my best. I told myself I was going to go home and continue to work on my game every day. I’m going to be the best I can be and control what I can control.
“BYU’s season was so incredible. I had to focus on my season at SLCC but I was keeping an eye on what they were doing in Provo. It gets me so hyped that I get to come. There are big shoes to fill but I will be at my best when I get there.”