Don’t let his soft-spoken nature fool you, there is a raging fire burning inside Caleb Johnson.
Take him lightly on the basketball court and you are likely to get burned.
The 6’7” class of 2020 forward from Father Henry Carr Prep has put the OSBA on notice in his second year at the school, ranking third in the league scoring, averaging 24.5 points a contest. He also averages a near double-double, pulling down 9.8 rebounds a game.
Despite an early season injury to starting point guard Josh Morgan, Father Henry Carr has thrived in OSBA competition, starting 10-3 to put themselves right in the mix in a crowded top of the East Division. The success has largely been driven by Johnson, who was forced to step up in an adjusted role with Morgan out of the lineup.
Long-time Head Coach and Program Director at Father Henry Carr Paul Melnik noted that Caleb took the situation as a personal challenge explaining, “When Josh went down, Caleb took it upon himself that he was going to take more shots.”
Besides taking on a heavy scoring load, both Melnik and Morgan, a good friend of Caleb’s, believed that Johnson’s biggest adjustment this season has been in his role as a leader on the team.
“He leads by example,” says Melnik. “Caleb doesn’t say very much, but when he does speak, he probably does have something profound to say. We have encouraged him to speak a little more and be more of a vocal leader, it’s not natural for him to do that, he’s very quiet. I do notice him trying to speak up and talk to guys, he does it in a very low-key way, he’s not brash or loud.”
Morgan added, “He will show you how things should be done. I think he will get used to [being more of a vocal leader] as the season goes on.”
Reflecting upon Johnson’s roots in North Preston, Nova Scotia, a small community roughly 30 minutes north of Halifax, it becomes clear that he has been preparing himself for the basketball spotlight for a long time.
Johnson’s older brother Chris has enjoyed a successful collegiate and professional basketball career, playing with St. Bonaventure in the NCAA before playing pro overseas. He recently returned home to play with the Halifax Hurricanes of the NBL Canada and take time to develop Caleb and a cousin also playing prep basketball in Ontario.
"I just felt it was important for me to come back home after all of those years away, so that I could help direct their careers both on, and off of, the court,” Chris Johnson told Carson Deveau of the Halifax Hurricanes.
Caleb is not shy about the impact that his brother has had on his basketball dreams growing up saying, “He’s the main reason why I wanted to play. If it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t be playing basketball today. He is the reason I want to pursue it. He’s my inspiration.”
Not typically a basketball hotspot, Caleb, along with his brother, have been part of a group of players that are working to change the perception of basketball in Atlantic Canada. As a part of Team Nova Scotia, Caleb won two Junior National Championships, raising the province’s basketball profile nationally.
Johnson takes great pride in opening up avenues for future generations of players in Nova Scotia explaining, “It’s important. Everyone on that team I would say is on their way to moving to the next level, to playing university. Other kids from Nova Scotia, they probably want to play as well. They’ve seen what we have done in the past, so they’re probably thinking ‘these guys are from where we are from, so maybe we can pursue the same thing’.”
Approaching college recruitment, Johnson determined that the OSBA and Father Henry Carr, a program that has seen NBA players such as Dillon Brooks and Tyler Ennis evolve into world-class talents, were the right fit as he prepared for the next level.
“It’s a huge adjustment in terms of competition. Being [in the OSBA] is on a different level.”
The adjustment appears to have been a seamless one for Johnson, who has quickly set himself apart amongst a deep group of elite talent in the OSBA.
Melnik attributes the success to a perfect combination of talent and an unrelenting drive to improve and be the best.
“A killer instinct, especially on the offensive end. He has a way to put the ball in the hole and has the confidence to do that,” Melnik said. “He went back home to Nova Scotia and did a lot of individual training. He then came out of the gates strong [this season] because he was prepared.”
Johnson explained that his motivation comes from those closest to him.
“Having people in my corner that push me to get better every day. My brothers and my family, my coaches. Having these people in my corner shows me I need to work hard, no matter how much success I earn. It gives me that edge to keep going.”
Before Johnson takes the leap to college, he wants to lead Father Henry Carr to an OSBA Championship. With Morgan nearing a return, the team presents a very dangerous prospect to any opponent they come up against.
What does Johnson think the team needs to do to go all the way this season?
“Playing as a team. Being confident, coming out aggressive against everyone we play. Playing with that edge, like we are not going to go anywhere, our record isn’t what it is right now. We still want to play every game like we are down.”
Caleb Johnson is on a mission. Good luck to anyone that tries to stop him.