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Father & sons & their LexCath basketball legacy

February 20, 2020 FieldsColumn


The Johnson brothers are bound by family and basketball. L-R: Ben, Tanner & Luke.

BY MIKE FIELDS (Feb. 20, 2020)

After Lexington Catholic junior star Ben Johnson poured in 42 points to power the Knights past Madison Central 78-75 in overtime last week, Indians Coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. confessed to having seen just about enough of Ben and his brothers, Tanner and Luke.

“I think every one of them has had a game against us where they’ve had at least 30-something,” Feldhaus said with a smile.

He’s got a good memory.

In 2015, Tanner hit nine three-pointers on his way to 43 points in a win over Madison Central.

In 2016, Luke put up 31 points in a loss to the Indians.

Last year, Ben had 40 points in a loss to Feldhaus’ team. Last week he topped that in Lexington Catholic’s OT escape.

“Thank goodness he’s the last one,” Feldhaus said of Ben and his brothers.

Lexington Catholic Coach Brandon Salsman, on the other hand, doesn’t want to even think about the end of the Johnson line when Ben graduates in 2021.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “We’ve had one of them on the team for 10 years now. It’s been a heck of a run.”

Danny and Shannon Johnson

The Johnson family legacy at Lexington Catholic goes back a lot farther than 10 years.

Danny Johnson was a standout player for the Knights more than three decades ago. He had more than 1,200 points in his career and helped them reach the Sweet Sixteen in 1985.

Even sweeter for Danny has been watching his three sons follow in his footsteps.

“Playing at Lexington Catholic, getting to the state tournament, and making lifelong friends was a great experience for me,” he said. “So to have three boys who’ve been able to go through that same experience is a dream-come-true for them, and for me and my wife. It’s just been incredible.”

Luke appreciates how special it has been for his father to see his sons suit up for the Knights.

“I think it means the world to him. He breathes basketball,” Luke said. “We were ingrained to learn and to love the sport from a young age. I honestly think it’s meant everything to him to see us play at Lexington Catholic, where he played.”

Tanner, as the oldest son, was the first to get indoctrinated.

Tanner Johnson is now a senior at Bryant University in Rhode Island.

“He was our guinea pig,” Danny said. “We had to figure out what leagues to play in and that kind of stuff. When Tanner was little – when all of them were little – we’d go to the (Beaumont) YMCA in the morning and I’d lower the goal as low as it would go, and they’d play before going to nursery school in the afternoon.”

Tanner remembers. “We’d go to the ‘Y’ pretty much every day and I’d work for hours on my jump shot on the little hoop,” he said. “And my dad would just sit there rebounding for me with a big smile on his face.”

When Tanner started playing AAU ball in the second grade, Luke, who is 2 years younger, tagged along. “He was gifted enough to play a little as the sixth or seventh player,” Danny said. “It was so beneficial for him to play with older kids.”

Ben, 4 years younger than Luke, benefited in the same way, following behind his brothers and scrapping with the older boys.

“He learned basically by osmosis,” Danny said with a laugh.

Dad coached them in middle school, which is when they really became enamored with the idea of playing for Lexington Catholic.

“It made them hungry and want to be the best they could be,” Danny said. “My job was easy. I just helped them out a little bit. I never wanted to act like they had to go shoot or had to go work out. I knew if you did too much too early, eventually they’re going to tell you ‘no more.’ But that never happened because they had so much fun with it.”

Luke Johnson is now a junior at Loyola University in Maryland.

Shannon Johnson, their mom, saw basketball become a bond among them.

“As soon as Tanner was in the gym, Luke wanted to be there, and as soon as Luke was in the gym, Ben wanted to be there too,” she said. “They’d go shoot on Christmas Day; they’d go shoot on their birthdays; they’d go shoot on Easter. It’s something they love to do. They just love it.”

The Johnson brothers are big guards, just like their 6-foot-3 dad was. Tanner is the tallest at 6-5. Luke and Ben are 6-3.

How do their games compare?

“People ask me all the time — Which one is better? — and I will never answer that question,” Danny said diplomatically.

But Salsman is willing to offer a scouting report:

“Each one has something that they’re awesome at,” he said.

“I called Tanner ‘Big-shot Bob’ because he hit more big shots for me than any player I’ve ever had. He was an unbelievable shooter with unbelievable range.

 “Luke was the most athletic of all the Johnsons, and his passing ability was second to none.

Ben Johnson is a junior at Lexington Catholic.

“And then you have Ben. I know the other two will kill me for saying this, but he’s the one that’s got the complete game. He makes everybody on his team better, but he’s also capable of putting up 42.”

Tanner is now a senior at Bryant University in Rhode Island. Luke is a junior at Loyola University in Maryland; Ben has committed to Bellarmine University, which will make the jump to Division I next year.

(Danny played college ball at Centre.)

Ben credits his brothers for helping him develop as a player.

“Growing up, I would always compete against them, and it was awesome,” he said. “They were always older so I kept getting beat up on, but it worked out for me in the end.”

Ben is on track to not only become the top scorer in his family, but also the top boys’ scorer in Lexington Catholic history.

Danny had 1,230 points in high school, and Luke had 1,282. Tanner had 1,735, but brother Ben, who’s averaging 25 points this season, is closing on him fast. He already has 1,568 points, and still has another whole season left.

If he stays healthy, he could surpass Demetrius Green’s school record of 2,144 next year.

Ben’s brothers are rooting for him, even when they’re away at college. They catch his games streaming on PrepSpin whenever they can.

“He traveled all over the country watching me play AAU ball, so I’m returning the favor,” Tanner said.

“They are really, really tight,” Danny added. “There’s a competitive spirit, but they always have each other’s backs.”

Danny Johnson was consoled by teammate Mike Mitchell after Lexington Catholic lost to Mason County in the 1985 Sweet Sixteen. (Herald-Leader photo)

In a basketball-crazy family, mom is the sane one.

“I always try to be the balance,” Shannon said. “I’m the one who, regardless of sports, makes sure we still take a family vacation, which we still do to this day.”

While her husband is the more vocal fan, Shannon admits she’s not a chill spectator.

“Watching our kids play is super stressful because we know how much they want to win,” she said. “They’ve had a lot of success in basketball, but they work so hard at it.”

The stress figures to increase in the coming weeks as Lexington Catholic tries to reach the Sweet Sixteen.

Danny helped the Knights get there in 1985 when they lost to Mason County 60-59 in the first round.

Tanner helped the Knights get there in 2015 when they lost to Boyle County 68-66 in the first round.

Luke helped the Knights get to the 11th Region finals in 2017 when they lost to Scott County.

Can Ben help them get back to Rupp Arena?

“We’ve got two chances left with him,” Salsman said. “Hopefully the Johnsons will be able to leave here with some hardware.”

But trophies won’t define the family’s high school basketball experience.

As Ben put it, “I just love being part of the Johnson legacy and playing for Catholic.”


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