When you see Elkhart Memorial’s Todd Johnson play basketball, the first thing you notice is his height. At 5’9”, he stands a head or two below most of the players at his level.
The second thing you notice?
Then his skill.
The senior has been the catalyst of an extremely successful season for the Chargers, leading them to a 19-1 regular season record and a 4A Sectional Championship. In crunch-time situations, Johnson has shown, time and time again, a flat refusal to let his team lose.
“I have a killer instinct and I hate to lose,” Johnson said. “As a basketball player, I feel like if you have a killer instinct, and you hate to lose, you're not going to do nothing but succeed.”
And Johnson does succeed, not despite his stature, but because of it.
“He's always had to fight that. Because of that, he's been mentally tough, physically tough,” Memorial coach Mark Barnhizer explained. “He has learned to make up for that height differential that he has with other kids with just his grit, his toughness. I think he's dealt with it all of his life and he's overcame it.”
Johnson models his game after Chris Paul, the 6’0” Clippers star, known for spreading the ball to his teammates and scoring despite his size.
While Johnson is a team player in Paul’s image, his coach admits he hasn’t always been the best pupil.
“He hasn't been easy to coach at times. But that's the good thing. I mean there are times that he's hard to coach because he's so headstrong,” said Barnhizer, who admits he wasn’t easily coached as a player either. “I love those types of kids because he wants to win everything. Some of the best players are sometimes hard to coach. But he's been a joy to coach.”
Barnhizer insists Johnson’s best days on the hardwood are yet to come. The point guard will play at Northern Kentucky next season—the school’s first in Division I athletics. According to Barnhizer, the school is ready to hand Johnson “the keys to the car.” And Johnson’s ready to drive. His goal is to play all four years for the Norse, and ten-plus years of professional basketball after that.
“If I don't go to the NBA, I want to go overseas and then give back to the community.”
Though Johnson’s future remains bright, his present is pressing. The Chargers will face Merrillville in the first game of regionals on Saturday, a tournament they haven’t won since 1989.
“This is Todd's last go-round as the leader of this group. He's really been kind of the athletic leader, on the boys side, in our school for the last two or three years,” said Barnhizer on the importance of advancing to semi-state. “I'd be thrilled to death because he's deserving of it.”
“I just want to prove to the world and the people of Elkhart that we can do it,” Johnson said. “But we have to do it as a team.”
Elkhart Memorial tips off against Merrillville in the Michigan City Regional at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 10.