Spencer Johnson had a choice to make.

It was April 2022, and a number of his BYU teammates were bolting into the transfer portal. The Cougars had just finished a disappointing, NCAA tournament-less campaign, despite having been ranked No. 12 in the country at one point. The following season likely wouldn’t be anything more than a youth-heavy rebuilding effort for the program, where success could be difficult to achieve.

“There’s been a lot of ups and downs along the way, but man, this year has been incredible. I think (my belief has) really come to fruition in that we’ve had a really successful year and we’ve proved to ourselves and all of our fans that BYU is here for the long haul in the Big 12 and that we’re going to be really competitive and really good.”

—  BYU guard Spencer Johnson

Up to that point, Johnson had yet to even start a game at BYU. For two years he’d primarily served as a defensive specialist and role player off of Mark Pope’s bench.

It would have made sense for Johnson to follow his other departed teammates in search of greener pastures. Instead, he chose to embrace the uncertainty ahead and remain with the Cougars, even taking to Instagram to declare his belief in the program.

“I believe in my teammates and in this coaching staff,” Johnson said in his April 22, 2022, post. “I believe that we are going to win here at BYU and we are going to be incredibly successful!”

To say such faith has paid off handsomely for Johnson over the past two years would be an understatement.

Since then, he’s started 52 games and is the unquestioned veteran leader of a surprising Cougars squad ranked No. 20 nationally, having become a legitimate power in Year 1 in the stacked Big 12 Conference.

The end of his college career may be approaching — he’ll be honored at BYU’s Senior Night Saturday against Oklahoma State — but not before getting another crack at the “Big Dance” later this month.

Related
How BYU's Muslim players will balance basketball with observing Ramadan

“There’s been a lot of ups and downs along the way, but man, this year has been incredible,” Johnson told reporters Thursday prior to BYU’s afternoon practice. “I think (my belief has) really come to fruition in that we’ve had a really successful year and we’ve proved to ourselves and all of our fans that BYU is here for the long haul in the Big 12 and that we’re going to be really competitive and really good.”

Johnson has appeared in 116 games for the Cougars over the past four years, starting all 30 contests of the current campaign while averaging 10.3 points. Though his shooting percentages are down compared to the past, Johnson has become more of an all-around contributor as a senior, tying for the team lead with 5.7 rebounds per night along with a career-high 3.7 assists.

“Every year he’s improved so dramatically,” Pope said. “Last year, he made massive strides shooting the ball ... and this year, he’s made incredible strides as a playmaker. He’s taken on more and more of a leadership role. Three years ago it felt like he’d never be in a leadership capacity here because it wasn’t a natural state for him, and now he’s not just a calming influence on our team, but he’s a vocal leader in all the right times and all the right ways.”

Following his mission to Italy, Johnson made stops at Weber State and UVU before quickly transferring from each school, having felt that neither were where he was supposed to be. From there, the former American Fork Caveman took a major gamble by heading to Salt Lake Community College for the chance to boost his Division I stock — a move he later called “the greatest thing for my career” back in 2022 — before ultimately committing to the Cougars.

The road leading to BYU may have been bumpy for Johnson, but playing in Provo gave him the fit he had long been searching for, now hoping to be remembered “just as a competitor, a good teammate and someone that loves the game and has loved his time here.”

The memories definitely won’t stop there. During his days as a Cougar, Johnson became both a husband and a father. He’s gone viral for his age and even received a shoutout from Latter-day Saint President Russell M. Nelson during general conference. But of course, he’s won basketball games, including thrilling upsets over No. 11 Baylor and at No. 7 Kansas in the past few weeks.

“These four years here have been incredible,” he said. “I’ve been super blessed to have a great career and be able to play for four years at BYU. It’s been really awesome to see that from a personal level, when you stay at something, stick at it and keep working, success comes.”

“It doesn’t hurt to go out in an epic year like this is right now, this has been an epic year and he’s been a huge part of it,” Pope said of Johnson. “I’m happy for him. I’m super proud of him and he’s a shining example of what you can do when you stick with it.”

Cougars on the air

Oklahoma State (4-13, 12-18)

at No. 20 BYU (9-8, 21-9)

Saturday, 7 p.m. MST

Marriott Center

TV: ESPN+

Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

As for his hoops future, Johnson — who already has his real estate license — plans to hire an agent and explore all possible professional opportunities later this summer, hopefully after making a dent in March Madness with the Cougars.

But as he prepares to take the Marriott Center floor for the last time Saturday, Johnson is just grateful to have stayed at BYU.

“The answer is not always to run away from hard things,” Johnson said. “Even though I wasn’t starting those first two years, I was like, ‘I really like it here, I’m playing and I’m going to work into it. I don’t want to run away ...’ It was definitely worth it to me to be able to work through it and be surrounded by these great people here.”

BYU guard Spencer Johnson brings the ball up during game against Texas Tech, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Lubbock, Texas.
BYU guard Spencer Johnson brings the ball up during game against Texas Tech, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Lubbock, Texas. The BYU senior will play his final game at the Marriott Center Saturday night against Oklahoma State. | Chase Seabolt, Associated Press