Brian Johnson, senior point guard for top-ranked Mount St. Joseph, admittedly has been "playing with a chip on my shoulder" for four years of varsity basketball.
Johnson, who is nearly 5 feet 10, has been battling the little-guy syndrome while winning on the court, but not in the eyes of many major college recruiters.
Johnson is now attracting interest from the likes of Massachusetts, Kent State, St. Bonaventure and Akron. He said he will not make a decision on where he's going until after the season.
"Everybody sees me as this 5-10 guard, but I can do as much as any 6-2 or 6-3 guard," said Johnson.
His older brother, Marques Johnson, was a 6-5 All-Metro swingman on an Annapolis team that went 25-1 in 1999-2000. His dad, Lawrence Johnson, who played at Severna Park High, is 6-3 and is his "biggest critic, but constructive."
"That's why I keep playing with a chip on my shoulder because I know I have something to prove," said Johnson, who lives with his mom, Cheryl, in Woodlawn after growing up in Annapolis.
Johnson excels at unselfishly getting other players involved, is clever at dribbling at the speed it takes to go to a certain player in a given situation, plays strong defense and is clutch offensively.
A good example of his unselfishness came Tuesday night in a 67-41 rout of Cardinal Gibbons at the Mount. Johnson was 0-for-4 from the floor and didn't score, but had 15 assists and only one turnover.
"We have a saying that, it's amazing what you can accomplish when nobody worries about who gets the credit," said Gaels coach Pat Clatchey, who considers Johnson to be the premier point guard in the metro area.
"Brian is a big-time player who wins championships and if I'm a college coach, I would have to be all over him. Brian just finds ways to win and for college coaches, it's about winning."
Johnson has led Mount St. Joseph to back-to-back Baltimore Catholic League regular-season and tournament titles and a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship his sophomore season. He averaged 8.5 points and 4.5 assists in 10th grade as the Gaels won their first BCL title in 32 years.
As a junior, Johnson averaged 11.2 points and 5.8 assists as a second-team All-Metro guard. He is averaging 12 points and 6.5 assists as a senior, leading the Gaels to an 18-1 record (only loss, 75-68 to DeMatha) as the only unbeaten team in the BCL and A Conference. The Gaels are 76-12 in his three years as a starter.
Clatchey, who led the Gaels to their first-ever No. 1 ranking in The Sun's final poll last season, wants the ball in Johnson's hands with the game on the line.
"In any good relationship, you have to have trust and respect, " said Clatchey. "I have the ultimate trust and respect for Brian, and we think on the same wavelength."
A recent example of that came in the Gaels' 52-50 home thriller over then No. 9 Archbishop Spalding on Jan. 13. With the score tied at 50, Johnson flawlessly directed the Gaels as they ran the clock down from 2:10 remaining to 45 seconds and a timeout.
Suddenly, with the clock winding down inside 10 seconds, Johnson took off for the basket. He dodged a couple of defenders and tossed in a pull-up jumper in the lane that got all net with 2.8 seconds left.
Johnson seems to have made a career of delivering the big shot, big assist or big play to win a game for the Gaels.
"Coach Clatchey believes in me and allows me to call my own plays," said Johnson. "Basically I'm him on the court and usually when I call something, he's thinking the same thing."
"He hates to lose, and he shares the ball," said Johnson's friend, Gaels senior forward Courtney Thomas. "There was a game last year when Brian and I had a discrepancy and argument, but the next play, he gave me the ball."
A look at some of Brian Johnson's clutch performances in Mount St. Joseph's victories:
Jan. 16, 2005: Scored 12 points and had six of his 10 assists in the second half to pace a comeback with two starters missing in a 50-38 win over Towson Catholic.
Jan. 13, 2005: Scored game-winning points on pull-up jumper in the lane with 2.8 seconds left in a 52-50 victory over Spalding.
March 1, 2004: Made free throw with 17 seconds left for the final margin of victory, forcing Spalding to take a three-point attempt that failed in a 36-33 win for the Gaels' second straight Baltimore Catholic League tournament title.
Feb. 11, 2004: Made two free throws with no time on the clock, sending the game into overtime as the Gaels overcame an 18-point deficit in the final period; made four free throws for last four points of the second overtime in a 93-90 win over Cardinal Gibbons.
Jan. 16, 2004: Made two free throws with 11 seconds left to give the Gaels a four-point lead in the second overtime and seal a 63-58 triumph over Spalding.
March 4, 2003: As a sophomore, he made a three-pointer in the second half to give the Gaels the lead for good with three minutes left on the way to a 49-48 win over Spalding and the team's first BCL title in 32 years.
- Pat O'Malley