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Johnsen's U. career ends like it started

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Britton Johnsen's star-crossed career came to an end Sunday night the same way it began — with him sitting on the bench because of an injury.

Johnsen, who has sat out for two weeks because of infectious mononucleosis and an enlarged spleen, hoped the Utes would beat Kentucky Sunday, which would perhaps allow him to join the team for the next round of the NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis this weekend with another week to recover.

The 6-9 senior forward had even held out faint hope right up until Saturday morning that he might be able to play in Sunday's game. But the final test on his spleen Saturday showed that its size was still too large for him to play.

"It's tough, it's hard to see this come to an end," said Johnsen in the Ute locker room after the game. "It's been a long road for me here with a lot of ups and downs. It's funny — I started my career sitting out being hurt and ended my career sitting out being hurt."

After coming to Utah from Murray High School, where he was named Deseret News Mr. Basketball, Johnsen sat out most of the first two months of his freshman year with a knee injury. He slowly worked his way back into the lineup and became a key player on the Ute team that went to the NCAA Finals.

Following a two-year LDS mission to Houston, Johnsen returned and averaged 9.2 points as a sophomore. Last year, he averaged 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and was named MWC Player of the Year.

This year, he was plagued by a bad thumb for much of the season after tearing ligaments in it and missing two games and wearing a cast for several more. Then he played a few games, apparently with mononucleosis, before being declared out just before the MWC Tournament. His final game as a Ute was one of his best of the year as he scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds in a win over Wyoming.

Ute coach Rick Majerus couldn't say enough nice things about Johnsen, praising him for his toughness and improved defense this year as well as a good effort in school.

"He's such a nice kid, a really, really nice kid," said Majerus. "He's had a great career in both the classroom and on the court. He's going to have a wonderful life."

Majerus believes Johnsen has a chance to be drafted by the NBA but hopes it's not in the second round, where he'll have no guaranteed contract and will be committed to a particular team.<

"We've got to pick the team he goes to in the NBA," said Majerus. "I'll begin that process with him in a couple of weeks."

Johnsen said he would like to keep playing basketball "preferably in the United States."