Hoops Player Stays Positive Despite Tragic Past


POWERING FORWARD: Starting forward Mike Johnson overcame challenges and is now focused on his education and basketball career.

John Ferrara, Sports Editor

Dealt a childhood shadowed by the tragedy of his parent’s murders, he remains positive through the love of his grandparents and a passion for basketball.

When Mike Johnson was 2 years old, he lost his mother and father in an unsolved double homicide. However, Johnson still chooses not to know the full details of his parents deaths due to the graphic nature of the crime.

“Around seventh grade my grandparents told me that my mom’s neck was cut from one side to the other with a knife as she fought for her life … that’s all I could handle to hear,” he said.

Johnson’s father suffered a similar fate.

While most would be driven to learn all they could about their parents’ deaths, Johnson is focused on “staying positive” and avoiding the gruesome specifics, as he finds them emotionally overwhelming.

He was adopted by his grandparents Rosalie Johnson and Fred Watley following the tragedy, but has always been in their care and still lives with them to this day in Palmdale.

“Words can’t explain it,” said Rosalie Johnson, who believes the murder was a case of mistaken identity based on an odd encounter that happened at her daughter’s wake.

“A mysterious man came up to me and said ‘you know this was a mistake, right?’ But before I realized what had happened, he disappeared,” she said.

Though it was a tragic loss for the family, Johnson and his grandparents have grown very close.

“When they told me, it hurt, but they’ve raised me since I was a baby so I look at them as my mom and dad,” he said.

While some might find it difficult to continue raising children in their later years, Johnson has an admirable outlook on her situation.

“When you raise children, especially grandkids, they keep you in a positive mind and prevent you from feeling old.”

One day after returning from school at the age of 6, his grandfather asked him if he wanted to follow in his footsteps and play basketball.

“He said yes and I signed him up that day,” said Watley, who now faces difficulties attending Johnson’s games due to the long distance commute, but still makes time to go over the details of every game when Johnson gets home.

Now 21, Johnson leads the Glendale College basketball team with fellow sophomore Robert Henry, and looked to for leadership by this year’s freshmen.

“He has become a very respected leader of the team,” said coach Brian Beauchemin. “He’s developed a very good work ethic and as a result, we’ve rewarded him by making him a co-captain.”

Johnson stands at an awkward 6-foot-5 with a raspy, passive voice that makes him seem an unlikely candidate for the job, however his character and his play thus far speaks for itself.

In the team’s first preseason win, Johnson had 21 points and six rebounds against Pierce College, which was previously undefeated with a 3-0 record.

“A lot of our team’s success relies on how much he improves,” said Beauchemin.

The Vaqs currently have a preseason record of 2-2, including an 87-36 blowout victory over Victor Valley College on Nov. 27.

Last year, Johnson was a role player off the bench, but through hard work, was able to earn a spot in the starting rotation midway through the season at the power forward position.

“He plays a trail spot for us. He’s in a position where he has to blend outside skills with inside skills and he’s done a much better job of accepting that role this year,” said Beauchemin.

After graduating from Palmdale High School in 2009, Johnson was recruited to College of the Canyons, but didn’t feel comfortable there and made the decision to take time off to care for his grandmother who suffers from diabetes and at the time

also had a broken leg.

In 2011, Johnson decided he would return to school. He researched multiple colleges and decided that Glendale would be his best fit. Johnson and Beauchemin seem to have a solid relationship, built upon mutual respect for each other.

“He’s the best coach I’ve ever played for,” said the power forward.

While his basketball career is back on track at GCC, it hasn’t been easy. Johnson commutes daily from his home in Palmdale, which is taxing, especially with the mandatory full class schedule required for all student athletes.

“After practice I go straight home to do homework, go to bed, and I’m back here,” he said.

Johnson is also a talented volleyball player, who played four years at the varsity level for Palmdale High School.

He’s interested in transferring and earning a degree in kinesiology or business management, but would like to stay close to home.

“[Transferring] will be good for him because he’s growing up,” said Rosalie Johnson, who admits it will be hard to see him go.

“He’s our whole world,” she said.

Glendale’s next home game is today, versus Cerritos College at 5 p.m. and the regular season begins on Jan. 9 at Citrus College.