This archived article was written by: Susan A. Polster
Dytanya “Bubby” Johnson thought he was coming to USU Eastern to play basketball last fall, but when he leaves in May, he leaves countless elementary, junior high and high school students as his new BFFs.
The six foot, eight-inch guard/forward on the Golden Eagle basketball team hails from Waldorf, Md., a suburb of Washington D.C. He played his freshman year at New Jersey Technical Institute, across the Hudson River to Manhattan, N.Y. He spent his sophomore season in Price, a community in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains.
“When I got off the plane in Salt Lake City, I was nervous my phone would not work because of all the mountains,” he said. “I was along way from home and my mom worried about me.”
Now as his sophomore year winds down, and most students head home, he called his mom to tell her he was staying a couple more weeks to coach his Utah AAU basketball team in SLC tournaments. He worked with eight and ninth grade students from Carbon High School, Mont Harmon and Pinnacle all season and wanted to be with them for the final tournaments of the season.
He got to know the students when some of the men’s basketball team would watch the Pinnacle Junior and Senior School basketball games. “I cheered so loud one game, plus harassed the referees that I got booted out of the game. The principal liked that our team was at the games so she asked me to come back as an announcer. She found out that I was a communication major with two years of broadcast experience.”
At first, Johnson announced the games for free, but then the PTA offered to pay him $25 to broadcast the final games. A coaching position opened with the AAU program, and the parents asked Johnson to work with their boys.
Since he wants to coach someday, he thought it would be a great way to help the boys become better players, plus it looked good on his resume. “The kids were respectful and just wanted to get better.” He preached the importance of defense and finds they struggle with new concepts, similar to his experience as a player growing up. He finds their confidence is growing with each game.
His No. 1 goal he teaches his team is to be coachable. “No matter how much talent you have, it will not win a game. When you are a ‘head case,’ not even the coach wants to work with you.” Johnson says he would be a hypocrite if he did not feel at times that he was not coachable. “Even I am learning from these players. I need to be the player that I want them to be.”
He coached that the boys need to work hard and not quit. Many times he would coach them after his classes and practice, so he was tired and wanted to teach them that you cannot give up if you expect to win. He found that he would scrimmage with them to make them hustle and not be selfish with the ball.
Johnson’s 100-plus hours of volunteer work did not stop at the junior high level. He signed up to volunteer at Castle Heights Elementary School every Friday as part of the USU Eastern SUN Center. He gets a ride every week with his friend Kathy Collette, who plays basketball and volleyball for Eastern. They read to the students, grade papers and test their skills. “I sometimes allow the students to go back and fix their mistakes after I have graded their papers so I can give them a better grade,” he quipped. However, his favorite part about his stint at Castle Heights is playing sports with the students at recess. “I love lifting them up to the [basketball] rim so they can dunk the ball.”
“At first the students were scared of me; my height, my dreadlocks, my color. They would ask for my autograph and then ask questions about the Utah Jazz. One student asked why am I black and I told him this is how God made me. A lot of students want to touch my hair.
“Being from Maryland,” Johnson said, “has a lot of racial diversity. In Utah, there is not a lot of color so this has been an adjustment for me. I tell the kids to not judge a book by its color, but understand why someone might be intimidated by me at first.
“Once the kids get to know me, they realize that I am really as big of a kid as they are.”
Jan Cox, Castle Heights Principal, says Bubby has been an incredible asset to her school. He is awesome and has been a big, positive influence to her students. I cannot express what an amazing helper and service he provided to this school.
USU Eastern’ SUN Center director, Terry Johnson, thought that Johnson is simply awesome, amazing and is grateful to have him part of his volunteer and service program.
Bubby got his nickname when, as a baby, his older sister tried to call him brother, but could not pronounce the “r” so it came out Bubby. “Everyone, even in college, calls my Bubby,” he smiled.
Next in Johnson’s life is playing ball in Southern Florida next year. “I am trading the snow in Utah for the beaches of Florida. Plus it is only a 13-hour drive for my parents and sisters to see me play. That will be nice.”
Johnson’s smile, enthusiasm and giving spirit has not gone un-noticed this year. Assistant coach Carter Roe, acknowledged Bubby’s heart of gold. “If you ask him for help, he won’t turn you down. With his charismatic personality, people, especially young people are simply drawn to him. He understands the importance of being a good role model, and is always mindful that young people look up to him.”
“I think Bubby is truly a special, young man. He has been an unbelievable ambassador for our program and really for the entire USU Eastern campus through his works this year. I hope people in Price, recognize the positive impact Bubby has had on so many lives,” Coach Adjalma Becheli said.
Can you imagine a 19-year-old college student donating time at an elementary school, plus coaching a youth basketball team, practicing at night and using his weekends to take his team to tournaments throughout the state? Truth is, Bubby enjoys helping people and he’ll tell you he gets more out of it than he gives. “We are all lucky to have had Bubby Johnson in our lives this past year….I’m sure his influence will be felt for a long time,” Roe said.