The first to arrive, the last to leave and blessed with the ability to lift up his teammates every time he was out on the basketball court.
Port Angeles senior guard Gary Johnson was instrumental in the Roughriders’ success on the hardwood this winter.
“Gary just ran the show,” Port Angeles head coach Kasey Ulin said. “He did so many things that did not show up in the box score. He was such a great teammate and his leadership and demeanor was such a value to us.
“When he was off the floor we were a different team. And I look at that closely and realize the value he brought to us and the importance we placed on him.”
The Riders boasted ample talent coming into the season, even after graduating 85 percent of its scoring output from the 2018-19 season.
“There might have been the expectation that Gary would have to lead us in scoring because we lost all those guys heading into his senior year,” Ulin said. “We had conversations about that, where we discussed him being a facilitator and getting his teammates involved first. There will be games when you will score 20 points, but we will be better off as the sum of our parts when we are getting Anton (Kathol) looks, or Damen (Ringgold), Chase (Cobb) or Dru (Clark).”
And Johnson listened to his coach and lifted his play and that of his teammates this season.
“He really bought into the unselfish aspect by sacrificing some personal gains,” Ulin said. “Everybody wants to score, you get noticed that way. But his ability to buy into being a real leader, an unselfish player, it led us to being a really good basketball team.”
Johnson averaged 9 points, 6 assists and 2.5 steals per game for the Roughriders, earning first-team All-Olympic League honors from league coaches and finishing second in balloting for the league MVP award won by Kobe McMillian, an Associated Press first-team All-State selection of the state-champion North Kitsap Vikings.
He’s also the All-Peninsula Boys Basketball MVP as selected by area coaches and the sports staff of the Peninsula Daily News.
Johnson said he worked in the weight room to add strength and quickness in the offseason, but his greatest gains came as a leader.
“I took a big leap in leadership,” Johnson said. “That’s where I stepped up the most. I try to lead by example first. Let my actions speak for what I’m doing and how the rest of the team should be playing. If someone is struggling, I do my best to help them get back on the same level and try to encourage them a lot.”
Johnson relished the challenge of keeping the Riders in the league championship and state tournament mix, particularly since he was able to play with seven fellow seniors.
“I was really excited actually to play with all my senior friends,” Johnson said. “We struggled a little bit at first in the summer, but we clicked pretty fast and once we clicked we were together and it was so fun to play with that group.”
Johnson will “never forget” his team’s 20-point comeback to beat No. 1 North Kitsap, the eventual Class 2A state champs, 65-64 early in Olympic League play.
“The Most memorable moment for me was the NK game at home,” Johnson said. “I’ll never forget that game, I still think about that one a lot.”
There’s a reason for that. Johnson scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, contributed to the lockdown defense on McMillian in the second half and hit the eventual game-winning free throws with seven seconds to play to lift the Riders.
“It’s important for your point guard to remain calm and steady,” Ulin said. “In difficult moments, Gary was calm and confident in what we wanted to do and it would feed the other guys. He had a knack for making big plays and he really showed that in our Lakewood game and our NK game and it all goes back to his work ethic.
“He is extremely confident in himself and a lot of that is how much time he’s spent in the gym.”
Johnson, a member of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, also relished the support of his tribal community.
“This season they supported me a lot,” Johnson said. “They knew me because I grew up here on the (reservation) and went to afterschool programs. It meant the world to me to have that support and see tribal members come to games and support my teammates and myself.”
And Johnson, who already has conducted basketball skills clinics for tribal youth, said giving back is even more important.
“That’s all I want to do,” Johnson said. “Show these kids that no matter where you come from you can do whatever you want if you put the work in. I’m going to try and put the work in to play college ball and it’s important for me to do that and be a role model.”
The 2019-20 All-Peninsula Boys Basketball Team
• MVP: Gary Johnson, sr., G, Port Angeles.
• Damen Ringgold, sr., P, Port Angeles — Roughriders’ leading scorer (14 points per game) and rebounder (9) shot 65 percent from the floor while earning second-team All-Olympic League honors.
• Trey Baysinger, jr., P, Forks — Evergreen League Co-MVP with teammate Tony Flores. Averaged team-high 17 points and nine rebounds.
• Anton Kathol, sr., F, Port Angeles — First-team All-Olympic League selection posted 11 points per game on 58 percent shooting and also hauled down 7.4 rebounds per game.
• Tony Flores, jr., G, Forks — League Co-MVP provided balance for Spartans, putting up 10.9 points, 6.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds and six steals per game.
• Erik Christiansen, jr., G, Sequim — Second-team All-Olympic League pick averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
• Noa Montoya, sr., G/F, Port Townsend — Redhawks’ 1,000-plus point career scorer posted highest scoring average on the North Olympic Peninsula at 22.6 points per game. Also averaged 7.8 rebounds, 3.6 steals, 2.1 assists and 1.2 blocks. First-team All-Olympic League pick.
• Chase Cobb, jr., G, Port Angeles — 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
• Isaiah Moore, fr., F, Sequim — Freshman got off to a solid start on the varsity, posting 10.5 points, a team-high 7.7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block.
• Dru Clark, jr., G, Port Angeles — Riders’ best long-distance shooter averaged 7 points, five assists and three steals per contest.
• Brendan Bergstrom, jr., G, Crescent — Averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds as the Loggers posted their best season in recent memory.
• Honorable Mention: Dallin Despain, jr., Sequim; Lonnie Kenney, so., G, Port Townsend; Aidan Petta, sr., F, Port Townsend; Captain Claplanahoo, jr., G, Neah Bay; Toby Croy, jr., G, Neah Bay; Hunter Cerna, jr., G, Chimacum; Stuart Methner, sr., G, Port Angeles.
Coach of the Year: Kasey Ulin, Port Angeles — Ulin utilized the Riders’ deep bench to guide Port Angeles to the best record on the North Olympic Peninsula, a win over eventual state champion North Kitsap and a solid run in the district basketball tournament to within one win of a state tournament berth.