When Chris Johnson moved to Toronto in 2006, he had one thing on his mind.
Ever since he was a boy, the North Preston native dreamed of being a professional basketball player, and knew moving away from Nova Scotia was the best way to start working toward that goal.
Four years later, the six-foot-five guard has signed a national letter of intent to play NCAA Division I men’s basketball with the Liberty Flames starting this fall in Virgina.
It’s a road not often travelled by Nova Scotians, but the former Auburn Drive Eagles high school standout knew it was the right one for him.
“I like the pressure of the NCAA and the importance of the game,” Johnson said. “This is how I want to feed my family one day and the other guys here want the same thing. It will push me to be better.”
Johnson spent two years in Toronto playing at the collegiate level at Eastern Commerce while working out with the junior national team. That helped him land a scholarship at Kilgore College in Texas, where he caught the eye of NCAA coaches in two seasons at the National Junior College Athletic Association level.
Twenty-two Division I schools recruited Johnson, who averaged a team-best 18.9 points in 11 games last season but fractured his foot in December and missed the rest of the campaign. He decided on Liberty because he said it presented him with the best opportunity.
“My biggest thing was not going somewhere where I would just be another player,” Johnson said. “I wanted to go somewhere where I could step in and make an impact right away.”
Kilgore head coach Brian Hoberecht said Johnson “has a chance to be an impact player at Liberty,” calling him a “versatile scorer” who can “score off the bounce, shoot the ball and get to the foul line.”
Johnson will spend the summer working out with the junior national team in an effort to get his foot back to 100 per cent for the fall.
“Once my foot gets healthy, everything’s going to take care of itself,” he said.
Rare feat for Bluenosers
It’s a rarity for Nova Scotians to play NCAA Division I men’s basketball. Six-foot-10 centre Corey Hallett, a native of Sandy Point, Shelburne Co., enjoyed a four-year career with Central Michigan and Monmouth ending in 2007, averaging 3.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in 112 career games.
Halifax’s Kenny Perry, the younger brother of former St. Francis Xavier X-Men star Fred Perry, saw two minutes of floor time in five games at San Francisco in 2007-08, but the six-foot guard left the school at season’s end. No other Bluenosers are known to have played at that level in at least a decade.
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