Jeff Johnsen is a renaissance man of sorts - having lifted Murray High basketball back into the spotlight after years of dormancy. Not only did the 6-foot-4 junior recently lead the Spartans into the state championship game for just the third time in school history (the first since 1955), Johnsen also managed to average 23 points and 10 rebounds along the way - a journey that included an 18-game winning streak and a Region 6 championship for the Spartans.
"He's the kind of player that does a good job of elevating his teammates' level of play," said Murray coach Gordon Kener. "Jeff does whatever it takes to win."Johnsen, who has played varsity ball since he was a freshman, is eager to equal the accomplishments of his grandfather, Joe Johnsen, who helped Murray win its lone basketball title in 1931.
"I've always dreamed of being able to do that," said Jeff. "I just try to do anything I can to win. . . I'd trade the state championship for any (individual honors)."
True, say those who know him best.
"The thing that impresses me most is that Jeff is not a prima donna," said his father, Fred. "He's a team player."
Surrounded by a talented cast that included second team all-stater Josh Lambourne, Jordan Greenwell, Cory Carlston and David Hancey, Johnsen meshed in well.
"Jeff is a team guy. He really acknowledges his teammates and I think that separates him from others. Jeff is every bit as concerned about his teammates," said Kener. "And he is all about winning. He wants to get out there and compete - like no competitor I know. It's a very sincere determination."
No doubt sparked by a keen interest in Larry Bird, Johnsen's idol.
"He just worships him," said his father, who was scolded by Jeff for not vising the famed Garden on a recent trip to Boston. "He knows everything about Larry Bird. He's watched enough Larry Bird that certainly something has rubbed off."
Like his idol, Johnsen wears No. 33. He patterned his game after the former Celtics great, but compliments his passing instincts and court sense with tremendous leaping ability and quickness - two areas Bird's play lacked.
"Jeff does things that no one can coach. He has an instinct and is a very entertaining and intelligent player," said Kener. "For a high school player, in many ways, he's as impressive as Michael Jordan is as a professional - to me."
"He's very explosive. That's what makes Jeff a great player," Kener concluded. "There's something special about Jeff. He definitely brings a lot of good things to Murray."
Add the Deseret News' Mr. Basketball Award, claimed by current University of Utah contributor Alex Jensen of Viewmont last year, to Johnsen's growing list of accolades. The highly-recruited cager, who has played every position but the pivot for the Spartans, becomes just the second junior - the other being Emery graduate Shawn Bradley of the Philadelphia 76ers - ever to win the "Heisman Trophy" of Utah high school basketball. Bradley's quest for a unprecedented second straight award was stymied by Bingham's Kenneth Roberts, now with BYU.
Johnsen will receive the Mr. Basketball award at the Deseret News All-State banquet, Saturday, March 25, at the Little America Hotel.