HIS JERSEY FEATURED the number of of his idol Larry Bird (33), but in essence Jeff Johnsen had a big red "X" on his back. As the state's reigning Mr. Basketball, the Murray senior was a marked man, a target, one to watch.
"No question," said Murray coach Gordon Kener. "I knew this year would be quite a different challenge for him."Despite the increased attention, multiplied by the Spartans' top ranking, the University of Utah recruit averaged 22 points and eight rebounds per game in leading Murray to a 22-2 record and the 4A state championship.
"I don't know of any player that is more team-oriented and has done more to bring success to a program than Jeff Johnsen," said Kener. "We at Murray think he's the greatest."
Such praise is bolstered by his repeat selection as the Deseret News' Mr. Basketball - the state's highest accolade. Johnsen is the first repeat winner in the 10-year history of the award. Past winners include Shawn Bradley of the New Jersey Nets and BYU standout Kenneth Roberts.
"Jeff Johnsen is very deserving of this award," said Kener. "He has been instrumental in leading a program to heights it hasn't seen in 65 years.
Though he scored just 11 points in Murray's double-over-time victory over East in the finals, Johnsen did dish out eight assists and rejoice in his team's accomplishment - reaching the top the first time since 1931 when Jeff's grandfather, Joe, captained Murray to the title.
"When the game was over you found out what Jeff was all about. He was truly excited," said Kener. "Jeff would rather win a game than get individual praise and awards. He really has that desire and attitude."
Since arriving on the scene three years ago, Johnsen has served as team captain for three region-championship squads while leading the Spartans to top-eight finishes each year at state - reaching the finals the past two seasons.
"Jeff was the right player at the right time," Kener added. "He's been the real foundation. And he always gives credit to his teammates. In his mind, you're not Mr. Basketball without having good teammates."
Johnsen, who was joined in Murray's starting rotation by first-team all-staters Cory Carlston and Britton Johnsen, agreed, noting that taking state is "the ultimate goal."
Mission accomplished - in more ways than one.
Past winners: Deseret News Mr. Basketball
1995 - Jeff Johnsen, Murray
1994 - Alex Jensen, Viewmont
1993 - Ben Melmeth, Judge
1992 - Jaron Boone, Skyline
1991 - Justin Weidauer, Cottonwood
1990 - Kenneth Roberts, Bingham
1989 - Shawn Bradley, Emery
1988 - Matt Bowman, Timpview
1987 - Kurt Miller, Ben Lomond