LONGMONT - Luke Johnson proudly sees himself as one name in a long line of top-tier hoopers to come through the vaunted boys basketball program at Longmont High School.
That alone is something to be proud of, and a lot of other people think he's a great deal more than that. The Trojans senior has been named the 2018 BoCoPreps.com boys basketball Player of the Year, making this the third season in the last four that a Longmont player has won the award.
Of all the talented basketball players to have played for Longmont in the past 60 years or so, however, Johnson is the only one who was able to lead the Trojans to a state championship. Given the caliber of teams that preceded it and the relatively unheralded nature of this year's squad, Johnson leading the Longmont boys to a Class 4A title with his unselfish play, constant leadership and one clutch performance after another tells you all you need to know about the young man and the impact his senior season had on Colorado prep basketball.
"I don't want to say, necessarily, that it's a shock," Johnson said of this year's Trojans team being the one to finally break through to win a title. "But my freshman and sophomore years, those teams were really talented and it was crazy to see those teams lose once in the Final Four and once in the championship. What made it work this year was that we really bought into teamwork and what coach (Jeff) Kloster was preaching. We weren't the biggest team or the most talented team. But we knew that if we were able to feed off each others' energy, then that would really help us a lot."
The Trojans entered the 2017-18 campaign ranked No. 9 in Class 4A by the CHSAANow.com poll, which is actually fairly low by the standard they have set over the past decade. They only lost two of their 28 games this past winter, once to then No. 1-ranked Golden in overtime and once to city rival Skyline in the final game of the regular season.
Throughout the season, Johnson averaged 19.5 points, 3.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game, and scored a career-high 32 points against cross-town rival Mead on Jan. 13. But because he has always been a team-first player at 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, Johnson's coaches and teammates had to convince him that there would be moments in the state tournament when he would have to be more selfish and take over the game for the team's benefit.
Once that idea sunk in, Johnson amped up his aggressiveness in the postseason. He averaged 23.0 points per game in five state-tournament games, including a 23-point scoring outburst to pace the Trojans' 62-59 win over Lewis-Palmer in the 4A state championship game. It was the Longmont boys' first state title since 1942.
"In the beginning of the playoffs, my coach was telling me that at some point the team would need me to take over in a close game," Johnson said. "The Windsor game in the second round really broke it open for me and made me realize that I was going to have to score the ball a lot more and be more of leader.
"I'm not one to take super-contested, tough shots. I like to find the open man. But when I had to do that sometimes, my teammates did a great job of giving me the confidence to take those shots and also of setting me up. And when I was starting to get double-teamed, I was able to find them."
This year's Longmont team seemed to have bought in to each other as well as Jeff Kloster's philosophies to an unprecedented extent, even at the parental level. From before the preseason began, Kloster said the players approached him and said they were all on board to work together and do whatever it took to accomplish their goal of winning a championship.
Kloster, the 2018 BoCoPreps.com boys basketball Coach of the Year, has coached just one losing season since he took over at Longmont 24 years ago, is the 26th coach in Colorado history to win 400 games and has made seven Final Four appearances. With the Trojans winning it all this season, he finally didn't have to enter the locker room following a tough season-ending loss and tell his players how proud he was of their effort after coming so close. This time when he entered the Denver Coliseum locker room after the championship game on March 10, Kloster could simply allow himself to enjoy the jubilation, something he credited in large part to to crafty left-handed guard.
"It's interesting because Luke's basketball IQ is off the charts," Kloster said. "He just knows how to play the game the correct way and he's all about the team. He's one of those kids that we had to remind that it's OK to take the game over sometimes because he's always so concerned about getting his teammates involved. Our whole team was kind of that way - unselfish - and he led the way. He was our igniter, especially in the playoffs.
"The thing I love most about Luke is that he makes everyone around him better. When your best player makes everyone else better, that's the true mark of an MVP."
John Rosa: 303-684-5212, firstname.lastname@example.org