Brandon Johnson was simply doing what’s expected of a leader on a basketball court. He leaped in the air to tip away a lobbed pass, exhibiting his usual quickness and athleticism.
Although he still lunged for the loose ball, Johnson felt a sensation “like someone kicked me.” The USD point guard tried to get up, but just as quickly fell to the court. He tried once more, but fell again. “I knew it was bad.”
In an instant, what was supposed to be his senior season was over. His teammates grew silent as they watched him roll on the floor in agony just before halftime during the December game against San Diego State. He’d ruptured an Achilles’ tendon in his left heel.
Now, the 2008 West Coast Conference Tournament MVP will be out of commission while undergoing what’s certain to be a long rehabilitation.
Johnson has appeared in 105 of 106 possible USD games, leading last year’s team to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The injury is a heartbreaker, but Johnson is facing this new reality with maturity.
“It’s my first major injury, my first surgery,” he says, referring to a medical procedure he underwent two days after that sickening on-court moment. “I don’t want anyone to pity me, there’s plenty of other people going through a tougher time than I am. I’m trying to keep it positive. I have faith in God. I don’t want a pity party.”
The injury has impacted the 22-year-old’s plans, both on- and off-court. Johnson was to complete a sociology degree in May, but if he’s granted an NCAA medical redshirt year, he’ll play as a fifth-year senior next season and will take courses for a business minor.
For now, he plans to spend more quality time with his 20-month-old son, Brandon Ryan Johnson, who lives in Houston with the toddler’s mother, Brittany Harrison, a junior at Texas Southern University. School and basketball commitments have limited him to only a few extended visits. “It’s been really hard thinking about him being back at home. I’m only able to see him twice a year, but when I do go home, he still calls me ‘Daddy.’”
Johnson says basketball has helped him bond with his child, especially last year when USD played nationally televised games. “When I make a shot, I touch my shoulder. It’s to make sure he knows it’s for him,” he says, glancing at the letters “BJ” and numbers “05-1-07” tattooed on his right shoulder. “I dedicate everything I do to him.”
If there is a bright side to the injury, it’s that it refocuses Johnson’s attention on his education, helping him to realize anew that even when his ball-playing days are over, his degree from USD will always be there.
“Everyone’s proud back home that I’m going to graduate. They look at me as a role model,” he says. “It’s been a long road, but for my son, I want him to know it’s a big accomplishment, too.”