T.J. gets win 600
It was a night much like New Year's Eve.
A crowd gathered waiting for the ball to drop and a number to light up, so that the party could start. Barlow's Super Fans supplied a spirited 10-second countdown while waving blue and yellow cards featuring '600' and others with the initials 'TJ.'
The clock expired on Barlow's 62-48 win at Centennial on Friday night, and legendary Bruins' basketball coach Tom Johnson had his milestone 600th career victory — joining only seven other boys coaches in the state to reach that summit.
The standing ovation was long and heartfelt.
Centennial Athletic Director Brent Child and boys basketball coach John Poetsch presented T.J. with the game ball before handing him the microphone.
On a night where everyone came to express their appreciation for him, T.J. thanked the coaches and players who had come through his program and allowed such a huge number to be attached to his name.
"I'm humbled," T.J. said. "You look at the list of coaches who have gotten there, and I'm honored to be included in that group."
The special part about a chain of 600 wins is that everyone from the 12th player on the bench to NBA Slam Dunk champ Freddy Jones are linked together in the accomplishment, because when you play for Tom Johnson you are family.
"He's such a caring person, and he pays attention to the details," Barlow senior Jesse White said. "He'll invite you over for taco soup and to watch an NBA game, and it's just time to talk. He has a love for the game, but he also has a love for the kids he is coaching."
"It's the way he authentically leads with his heart — his core values haven't changed, and ultimately that is what makes him great," said Jared Price, a guard on the Bruins' 1996 squad that reached the state title game. "It's 23 years after I graduated, and I still talk with coach every couple weeks — he's family. I still reach out to him on life issues today, and he picks up the phone in a heartbeat every time I call."
In addition to a runner-up finish in 1996, Johnson directed Barlow to the state semifinals in 1997 and in 2018.
"I think about his integrity and the way he treats everybody that comes into his program," said former player Josh Atkins.
Nick Hudson remembers attending Bruins' youth camps as a child on his way to a prep career in the program. He then joined Johnson as an assistant coach for 7-8 years and is now the head coach for the Barlow girls program.
"When you think about 600 wins, it's crazy. It's such a big achievement — he's a legendary coach," Hudson said. "It speaks to the faith he has in his kids, and his ability to let his players thrive."
Over the course of his 34 seasons at Barlow, Johnson has coached each of his sons Drew and Jared.
"He is very humble. He's not even talking about the 600 wins — it's all the people around him who are excited about it," Jared said. "He doesn't care about the wins, he cares about turning players into young men — that is his legacy."
"He loves what he does. He's out scouting every night or watching film. He's very committed," Drew said. "He always says the kids keep him young."
And he is committed to more than just the Xs and Os of game night, every former player I spoke with started with how much T.J. cares about his players.
"He's really good at handling kids when they are facing some sort of adversity or have fallen into a slump," Drew said.
"He has always pointed to sports as a way to teach life-long traits — honesty, trust, getting the best out of your teammates," Jared said. "He's definitely been an inspiration in the way I want to run my program."
Jared just completed his first season as head volleyball coach at Centennial.
"He's much more than a coach — he's a friend and a mentor," Barlow senior Evan Inglesby said. "He walks into a room and people light up — that is the effect he has."
T.J. lays the groundwork for success on game nights by pushing his players to pay attention to the details during practice.
"He has a philosophy that is different from most coaches," White said. "We'll spend 25 minutes doing footwork drills — he has us doing the things that people tend to forget about. His I.Q. for the game is sky high."
"If you have 600 wins, you are doing something right," Inglesby said. "He has a big bag of tricks. He knows every game situation perfectly."
Gene Saling has been in an assistant's chair next to Johnson for all but two of his seasons at Barlow.
Friday's 62-48 win at Centennial has No. 10-ranked Barlow (13-6) tied atop the Mount Hood Conference with three weeks left in the regular season.
"For me it's about the relationships you form during and after," T.J. said. "Just being a part of their lives, that's why I continue coaching."
Oregon Prep Boys Basketball
1. Mike Doherty, Corvallis 850
2. Nick Robertson, Beaverton 704
3. Dennis Murphy, South Medford 697
4. Barry Adams, South Salem 652
5. Gary Hull, Western Mennonite 666*
6. Craig Rothenberger, Junction City 650*
7. Ken Harris, Sunset 619
8. Tom Johnson, Barlow 600*
* active coaches
x – school listed is where coaches spent the most seasons
This story is scheduled for our Tuesday, Feb. 11, print edition.
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