All athletes know if you can’t keep up with the crazy whirl of social life, being successful in the classroom, and performing as a competitor, then that dream could quickly be snatched away from you. Such was the case for Aubrey Johnson.
His is a second-chance story that started with a simple question:
“What’s your favorite jersey number?”
“23,” he said.
“Okay I’ll be in Mustang, Oklahoma in a couple weeks, with your jersey number, ready to sign.”
That’s the last thing head basketball coach, Dustin Galyon said to his hopeful new basketball player when he came on his visit to campus in late July. Johnson arrived on campus in the fall of 2015.
“What brought me here was the coach,” said Johnson. “It took him a while to talk me into it.”
After all, Johnson had offers from a lot of other schools, including interest from Oklahoma State University. Galyon’s interest in Johnson, on the other hand, happened by accident. He went to watch a player from a different school and they happened to be playing Mustang High School, where Johnson attended. Once he saw him play, he knew he wanted him.
“I’ll never forget the first time I watched Aubrey play,” said Galyon. “His first few three-point attempts were about five feet behind the three point line and he missed all three.”
Some coaches might’ve lost interest at that point. But not Galyon.
“He kept shooting and then he made a bunch of shots,” said Galyon. “I was like man, this kid, either it’s his birthday and they’re letting him shoot or he’s a really good player and obviously he’s a really good player.”
However, success on the court alone wasn’t enough to get Johnson where he wanted to go. Due to a lack of focus on school and undesirable grades, the most desirable offers from other colleges started disappearing. So Hesston it was, and he thrived, evident in the last game of the regular season of 2015 when Johnson came off the bench to score his career-high of 33 points.
“As a freshman, it seemed like the bigger the competition, the better Aubrey was,” said Galyon.
But unfortunately, the academic problem remained. Johnson focused on basketball and nothing else. And his dream was snatched away.
“I never thought it would happen that I couldn’t come back here,” said Johnson. “When basketball season ended, I quit doing the work, quit going to class, wouldn’t care, and wanted to leave Hesston. But then I did want to come back. I took classes over the summer and wrote letters asking to come back. But it was too late, and they were denied.”
Over the summer, Johnson moved on from his Hesston dream and began working. Then he received a call from Oklahoma City University’s head coach asking him to play basketball for them. He didn’t sign, attend classes or even sit at the end of the bench. He only practiced as a red-shirt freshman. But that wasn’t what he wanted to do. So when coach Galyon texted him last January, he jumped at the opportunity.
“Coach texted me to see how I was doing and to make sure I ended up at the right place, and I made a comment about wanting to come back,” said Johnson. “He said he was thinking the same thing and we started looking at what needed to be done, what [online] classes I needed to take, and I kept him and Deb Roth updated on my grades. They were both a big part of it.”
He knew it would be a challenge coming back to Hesston; he remembered why he left in the first place. But he also knew he was getting a rare second chance at his dream and Johnson was determined to finish what he started. The right way.
“I knew that I really wanted to come back here to finish out my career and to prove to myself that I can do it,” said Johnson. “To prove to myself that I could make it here and get to the next level where I want to be.”
And this year, he has proven just that. He’s seen in his room doing his homework, going to class, and his GPA has improved significantly because of it.
“The year away was transformative for Aubrey and he began to value what it means to be a student athlete,” said Galyon. “He has proven to take a big step in the classroom and as a basketball player. I think he has became on any given night to be one of the best players in Division II junior college.”
And his teammates agree.
“Coach fought hard for Aubrey to come back this year and I’m glad he did,” said fellow team captain and teammate, sophomore David Ladwig. “When it comes to game time, Aubrey is a winner, a fierce competitor, and a scorer on all three levels.”
Johnson knows opportunities like playing collegiate basketball are hard to come by. Second chances are even harder to come by. And he’s taken advantage of his.
“This second year has been way better,” said Johnson. “I’ve kept my head on and stayed way more focused than I’ve ever been. I have something to look forward to besides basketball since I’ve put my mind on other things. But basketball is something I can do, why not take it as far as I can?”