If Saturday night is the final home game for BYU’s Spencer Johnson, Jaxson Robinson and Noah Waterman, it will cap three improbable stories of determination, self-reinvention and transformation. It will also be the end of the road for the three who traveled crooked paths to Provo.

Johnson, the oldest active player in college basketball (26), has graduated and is officially done after the NCAA Tournament. Robinson and Waterman, both seniors, could possibly return next season, but the rising NBA noise around Robinson will be difficult to ignore. Waterman would need to secure a medical waiver for the 2019-20 season at Niagara.

While unified in effort and thriving at the tail end of an improbable run that has defied preseason prognostications, these three Cougars couldn’t be more different. One is from Utah County, another from upstate New York, and the third from the flat plains of Oklahoma.

They have different playing styles, personalities and faiths. Each started somewhere else — Johnson (Weber State), Waterman (Niagara) and Robinson (Texas A&M). In addition, they each played at a second school before coming to BYU — Johnson (SLCC), Waterman (Detroit Mercy) and Robinson (Arkansas).

However, when stirred into the melting pot of BYU’s diverse roster, all three have become key cogs for the No. 20 Cougars, and all are worthy of a theme song that best captures their careers.


Johnson: ‘I Won’t Back Down’

BYU guard Spencer Johnson (20) fakes to shoot during game against Baylor at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News
“No I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
And I won’t back down.”

Tom Petty’s masterpiece captures Johnson’s career that tipped off at American Fork High. Never the tallest, the strongest or the fastest, Johnson found a way to be a difference maker. Following a church mission, he enrolled at Weber State in 2018 before transferring to SLCC a year later.

Johnson’s Bruins went 29-4 and his 13.2 points and 4.9 rebounds caught the attention of BYU. He joined the Cougars in the fall of 2020 and on Saturday, Johnson will take the floor for the 117th time.

Back-to-back fifth-place finishes in the West Coast Conference and being left out of the Big Dance motivated Johnson to return for one last blast — and what a year it’s been. The 6-foot-5 tweener guard/forward is wrapping up his BYU run with a degree, a new baby (his wife, Issy, delivered a boy last month) and his Cougars (21-9, 9-8) are going to the NCAA Tournament.

Often assigned to defend the opponent’s top scorer, who might be bigger, stronger and faster, Johnson epitomizes a player that wasn’t perfect, but he never backed down to anyone.


Robinson: ‘Poker Face’

BYU guard Jaxson Robinson defends Southeastern Louisiana Lions guard Nick Caldwell at the Marriott Center in Provo on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
“Can’t read my, can’t read my
No, he can’t read my poker face.”

Lady Gaga’s hit single is a perfect tune for Robinson, who camouflages his emotions like no one else on the team. It doesn’t matter if he sinks a significant 3-pointer or turns the ball over, his stone-cold stare rarely changes — ironic for a young man who has been through a lot of change.

Robinson started his college journey at Texas A&M in 2020. He transferred to Arkansas in 2021 before finding a home at BYU in 2022. He played in 33 of the Cougars’ 34 games last season, but the one he missed was a game-changer.

With No. 24 Saint Mary’s playing in front of a raucous Marriott Center crowd, Robinson and two teammates sat at the end of the bench — suspended for violating a team rule. The night turned even more painful when Robinson watched Aidan Mahaney beat his guys 57-56 with a last-second shot.

The 6-foot-7 journeyman from Ada, Oklahoma, had to decide right then and there what kind of person he was going to be moving forward. What kind of teammate? What kind of student? He responded over the summer and became the catalyst for bolstering team morale by spending time with each player on the roster.

A leg injury kept him out of the starting lineup when the season began. He responded mightily in a supporting role coming off the bench and decided to stay there. Not only is he BYU’s leading scorer (13.9) but Robinson is also a strong candidate to win the Big 12′s Sixth Man of the Year Award, which will be announced next week in Kansas City.

Robinson may play with a poker face, but don’t be fooled; behind that look is a Boy Scout. He is kind, courteous, thoughtful, driven, sincere, funny, humble and the kind of teammate that his mom hoped he would be.


Waterman: ‘I get knocked down’

Brigham Young Cougars forward Noah Waterman (0) drives past UCF Knights guard Darius Johnson (3) at the Marriott Center in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
“I get knocked down
But I get up again
You’re never going to keep me down.”

Chumbawamba and Waterman can sing this song together. No one on the BYU roster has been knocked to the ground more violently or more often during Big 12 play than the 6-11 senior from Savannah, New York.

Each time he gets knocked down, Waterman gets back up. He is the poster boy for how valuable a second year can be after transferring through the portal. Last season was rough. Not only was Waterman far from home, but he was distant in his commitment to the team, both on and off the court.

Waterman joined Robinson at the end of the bench, also suspended for the Saint Mary’s game and facing the same uncertain future. He needed to get serious about his life or his golden opportunity at BYU was going to disappear.

So, as the song goes, having been knocked down, Waterman got back up again and went to work reinventing himself. A renewed focus in the classroom, the weight room and the team room transformed his productivity on the floor. Worrying less about Waterman and more about the teammates around him made him a better Waterman.

As a result, he has been left battered and bruised while fighting for rebounds and loose balls against physically stronger big men in the conference. Despite the odds, Waterman has doubled his rebound average from 2.8 rebounds to 5.8.

On the offensive end, Waterman has improved his scoring from 4.6 points per game to 10.1. His 3-point shooting percentage is up from .323 to .374 and his free-throw shooting has jumped from .543 to .807. Most importantly, he has become a player his teammates can count on.

Waterman played seven games at Niagara in 2019. He transferred to Detroit Mercy in 2022 and rolled into Provo two years later.

The last blast

Chumbawamba has an additional verse fitting for the trio’s swan song.

“We’ll be singing
When we’re winning
We’ll be singing.”

For a team picked to finish 13th in the Big 12, there has been a lot of singing this season with the chance for more during Saturday’s home finale against Oklahoma State (7 p.m., ESPN+). If it is their last Marriott Center moment, Johnson, Robinson and Waterman have earned thunderous applause and all three have traveled a long, crooked road to get it.

Soak it in.

BYU's Spencer Johnson goes in for a layup during game against Kansas State in the Marriott Center in Provo.
BYU's Spencer Johnson goes in for a layup during game against Kansas State in the Marriott Center in Provo. | BYU Photo