Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
In the CHSAA (Catholic High Schools Athletic Association), there is always bound to be plenty of special talents. Although the “AA” division is more prominent, due to the large assortment of Division I players, there are also some gems in the “A” and “B” divisions, respectively, that are under-the-radar.
Nick Johnson falls under that category. The 6-foot-4 guard was one of the city’s best talents in the CHSAA and was his team’s biggest scoring threat. Due to the fact that All Hallows had a very small lineup, most of the time, he had to play inside, but had a knack for handling the ball on the perimeter and could also shoot from long range.
Being that he was in a lesser division in the Catholic League, he always had to prove himself around the city and always rose to the occasion. Fast-forward to the present, where he is now a signed to the University of New Hampshire and awaits his freshman season. But as they say, you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. For Johnson, such was the case.
When asked what motivates him to be successful on the court, he replied, “Well, I play the game more for my mom than I do myself. Seeing her struggle at times, it really motivated me to play, but I play for a better opportunity for myself as well. I know that I have a chance to use basketball to get a free education as well in college, so I’m going to see how far it takes me.”
A native of the Hunts Point section of The Bronx, Johnson plays the game with an edge and also confidence that many people from the borough have. “I’d say the culture in The Bronx, that’s on the rise,” he said, “I believe there’s a lot of young talent coming from The Bronx and a lot of people from The Bronx came before me that I can learn some tools from, so I think overall, The Bronx is a pretty good borough for basketball right now.”
When asked about what made him want to attend All Hallows, one of the prestigious Catholic high schools in the borough and in all of New York City, he replied, “My Gauchos coach, Ed Turkson, he recruited me to go to All Hallows, I knew it was a good academic school, as well as basketball. I knew I’d have the opportunity to play, and I hoped that one day I could leave a legacy, which I did I believe.”
One of the best parts of being a Gael, is playing for another alum of the school in Marvin McCullough, who is a 2002 graduate of All Hallows who went to play four years of Division I basketball at Iona College.
When asked about playing for McCullough, who was once in his shoes as a student-athlete, Johnson replied, “Coach McCullough is a great coach, but I believe he’s an even better person, because of certain things he’s done for me. On the basketball court, I was able to pick his mind and learn things from a good point guard that he was in his day, so it helped me evolve my game and turn me more into a guard, coming from the power forward position, so I think that was good, and I also got to play under him and like, he brings a fire out of me, and it motivated me to play hard and do what I love to do.”
On strengths and weaknesses in his game, he replied, “I believe, a strength for me, is getting to the basket, finishing at the basket, making smart decisions, knowing when to pass the ball, knowing when not to pass the ball. I think a weakness for me could be three-point shooting and shooting range and ball-handling, but I’ve been working on those constantly, so I believe it’ll get better.”
In April 2018, during his junior year, Johnson went on a visit to the University of New Hampshire, which was one of his first collegiate offers. Soon after, he committed to the school, which plays in the America East Conference. Many high school players tend to hold out and wait for more offers to come during their senior season, but he decided that this school further in the Northeast was the best place for him.
When asked what made him decide to attend New Hampshire and if that was his only offer, he replied, “No, I had a couple of offers from some local schools, some D-I’s, but New Hampshire, I really decided to go there, because I felt it would be the best fit for me, I knew that I could play as a freshman, I’m going to get a lot of playing time as a freshman, I would have the opportunity to start if I worked for it hard enough. And the coaches, they showed a lot of love to me, when I was on the visit and even when I wasn’t on the visit, writing me hand-written letters to make sure I was okay, texting me every day to see if I was okay, so it was just a good experience knowing that, like, they really wanted me to be there and they cared for me, so that’s what made me go there.”
On what it means to have a Division I scholarship in hand, Johnson added: “It means a lot to me, ‘cause when I started playing basketball, a lot of people saw potential in me, and they knew that I could become a Division I athlete from when I started playing ball in the seventh and eighth grade, so it means a lot coming from my family, I get to go to college for free and not have to take a loan out, not having to pay anybody or be in debt. So, yeah, going to college for free is a big opportunity for me and I’m grateful for it.”
Since his middle school days, he has played for the legendary New York Gauchos AAU program, which is also based in The Bronx. On playing for the Gauchos, he replied, “A coach from my middle school, he told me to go try out for the team in seventh grade, but in seventh grade, I guess I wasn’t good enough, so I got cut, and then I came back the next year, after working out over the summer, and Coach Ed [Turkson], he accepted me on the team, but I was playing the power forward at that time. Since then, he’s been constantly getting me to try being g a guard, working on my ballhandling skills and my shooting and things like that. So, I had an opportunity to leave and go play for another team, but I decided to stay loyal to him, and stay on Gauchos.”
When asked if playing the low-post helped him with his guard skills, Johnson replied, “Yeah, I believe so, because I see a lot of things that I can use from the low-post in my game now, such as the footwork, I know if I have the height advantage on a smaller guard, I can take him to the post and do certain moves, like a spin or shoot over him. So, it’s helped me out a lot, and it’s gotten me stronger, so I know how to battle down low with the bigs, and I think it’s made me more versatile, because I can rebound as well as push the ball up the court, so I think it’s helped me a lot honestly.”
This past season, Johnson was the leading scorer in the CHSAA “A” division with 21.8 points per game and led the Gaels to an 18-7 record and a berth in the city quarterfinals, where they would lose to LaSalle Academy.
When asked about his senior season, he replied, “I think I had a pretty good senior season, it didn’t end the way I wanted it to, but I think I have a lot of accolades under my belt, I was [CHSAA] Class A Player of the Year, I scored 1,000 points this year, a lot of highlights from this year, a division champion, beat some “AA” schools, some single “A” schools, so, I think overall, it was a pretty good year, even though the outcome wasn’t we wanted ultimately, but like, I can’t be mad, knowing that I worked hard to get to a certain point and that we just fell short.”
When asked how he wants to be remembered for his days at All Hallows, Johnson replied, “I just want to leave a stamp to have the underclassmen and people in the lower grades work hard, I’m here every day after school working out, whether it’s in the weight room or in the gym, just putting shots up, open gym, I’m here, so I’m around the school, you see my face around the school a lot. After school, I’m in here working out a lot, so I just want to be remembered as someone who worked to get to where he was and not someone who had things just handed to him.”
As for what the fans in New Hampshire can expect from him, he replied, “I think they can expect someone who’s a hard-worker and someone who can hopefully bring some wins to the team, we didn’t have a great season this year, but I ultimately do think it can get better, they can expect a hard-nosed defensive player, as well as a person who can score the ball and get to the cup on offense, they can expect a versatile player on offense that can play the one through for and rebound and pass really well, so I think New Hampshire, I think we’re in good hands in the future.”
Now, with the Bronx and All Hallows in his rearview mirror, Johnson looks to help a Wildcats team that went 5-24 last season and finished last in the conference standings with a 3-13 record. Rome wasn’t built in a day and winning takes time, but with Johnson in the fold, New Hampshire can look forward to a bright future.