Johnson’s college career ends too soon with loss to Arizona

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You’ve got to feel bad for Gary Johnson.

He just ran out of time. He picked up the 686th and final rebound of his college career, but before any shot could be taken or any foul could be made, the clock showed all zeros.

This wasn’t how things were supposed to end. He couldn’t believe it. His teammates couldn’t believe it.

The leader and heart of the Longhorns will never put on a Texas uniform again.

His four-year career at Texas: done. It went by just like that.

Johnson came in as a freshman full of raw talent. His skills slowly developed. His attitude got better. He became the most-respected player throughout the locker room. The man that each player could go to if needed.

On the court, he always had his head in the game. Off the court, he was a fun, laid-back jokester whether he was spitting some freestyle rhymes or making fun of his Canadian teammates’ accents.

He faced hardships growing up in the Houston area being raised by his grandmother. He was a superstar in high school and competitively recruited.

He got to Texas, but before his freshman season had to sit out the first couple of months because of a severe heart problem that luckily cleared up.

He played as a freshman and was a critical part of the team that advanced to the Elite Eight in 2008. Johnson came off the bench for the majority of his first three seasons. He averaged double figures in points his final three seasons and was among the team’s top rebounders in
those seasons.

This year, he was one of four seniors. Alongside Matt Hill, Dogus Balbay and Jai Lucas, Johnson was a big part of the changed attitude in this year’s Texas team.

Even though Texas only advanced one round further than last year, it was a big leap.

Gary: The Leader

It is no secret that last year’s squad was not together. We all know that some players had their own agenda. The team suffered from it.
This year, the Longhorns were one. From top to bottom, the team got along. No loose bolts.

“He’s the reason we got this thing going,” said J’Covan Brown.

Johnson assumed the role as Texas’ leader. He led by example by always coming early and staying late to work on his shot. He led vocally by coaching his teammates on and off the court.

Sometimes Johnson has a lot to say. Other times, he doesn’t.

But when he doesn’t have much to say, his emotions say so much.

A couple days after Texas’ first Big 12 loss of the season to Nebraska, Johnson was asked by a media member to explain what happened against the Huskers.

“We lost,” Johnson said, still frustrated from the game.

Well, what do you need to do now?

“We got to win,” Johnson said.

It’s that simple. But at the same time, it’s so complex. The way he paused before he chose his words. His facial expression showed how much the loss hurt him.

“If he tells you something, you know it’s some wise wisdom,” said Tristan Thompson.

Gary: The Defender

Johnson took pride in his defensive role this season. Everyone knew he could hit a mid-range jump shot and could post up in the paint.

On the defensive end, Johnson wanted to play similar to Balbay’s lockdown style. He worked hard at it and got much better. With that, he gained confidence in his ability to defend. He started declaring that he would be the one guarding the opposition’s star player. He wanted Kansas’ Morris twins. He wanted Arizona’s Derrick Williams. He even wanted Baylor’s guard LaceDarius Dunn.

“That shows the type of maturity that Gary has in his game,” Thompson said. “He wants to guard the best player. With him being a senior, him being a leader, I can’t say nothing. I’m like, ‘OK, Gary, go take that assignment.’”

Gary: The Future

Johnson was not ready for his college career to end. Fans may remember him for his streaky shots and clutch rebounding. But there won’t be any parade for him. His jersey won’t be retired. He will not be all over Texas record books for years to come — he was six rebounds shy of cracking Texas’ all-time top-10 rebounders.

He will definitely be remembered by his teammates and coaches who have seen him grow and develop throughout his four years at Texas.
Whether he goes on to play professionally remains a question. Don’t expect to see his name on many NBA mock drafts.

“I have learned a lot. I feel like I have grown into a better player,” Johnson said. “So we will see what my future endeavors have to offer.”

You really have to feel bad for Gary Johnson. He shouldn’t have to worry about it yet. He only needed half a second more. He would have made both free throws. Texas would have advanced to the Sweet 16 where they would play Duke in Anaheim.

He just ran out of time.

“It’s part of the game,” Johnson said. “You live with it.”