As a multi-sport athlete from the Central Valley who also excels in the classroom, Sierra High senior Hunter Johnson can relate to California Maritime Academy men’s basketball head coach Bryan Rooney.
Rooney, 34, prepped at St. Mary’s of Stockton and played a year of college football at St. Mary’s College before dedicating himself to basketball at San Joaquin Delta College and Dominican University over the next three.
Rooney may see a little bit of himself in Johnson, a 6-foot-4 forward who signed to play for his Vallejo-based program on Monday. Rooney was named Dominican’s Student Athlete of the Year in 2002-03 after leading the school to its first conference championship and national tournament appearance.
Johnson has only been a part of winnings teams in his two varsity years at Sierra. He helped the football team earn its second Valley Oak League championship this past fall as its leading receiver, and last spring he was part of the Timberwolves’ Sac-Joaquin Section semifinal baseball squad. Sierra’s baseball team is currently a frontrunner in the VOL.
In basketball, he and Sacramento State-bound Joshua Patton spearheaded the T’Wolves’ charge to their first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section championship and CIF Northern California Regional semifinal appearance.
Rooney views Johnson as a versatile player with a “high ceiling,” adding that he watched nearly 10 of his games in person and came away impressed every time.
“He’ll have the opportunity to focus on one sport the next four years which I think is really going to speed up his progress and his development,” Rooney said. “We’re not only getting a basketball player, but by all accounts we’re also getting a very good person. He is somebody that as a student is going to flourish as well.”
Cal Maritime is the only maritime academy on the west coast and one of just seven across the nation. Johnson will pursue a bachelor’s in Global Studies and Maritime Affairs, which he translates into a career with the FBI.
“It’s always been a dream for me to sign somewhere and it’s the right place for me,” said Johnson, who is receiving a partial scholarship. “The program has a winning tradition behind it and the school has exactly what I’m looking for as far as leading me to a successful career.”
The Keelhaulers are coming off their fifth California Pacific Conference championship under eight-year coach Rooney. They went 9-1 in Cal Pac play, 19-10 overall and lost to then-No. 9-ranked Mount Mercy 64-61 in the first round of the NAIA Division II National Championship. Cal Maritime had three players selected to the Cal Pac first team, including former Manteca High standout Dominique Barnes.
Johnson and Patton were voted co-MVPs of the VOL and shared the same award for the Manteca Bulletin’s All-Area Team. The versatile Johnson averaged 13.4 points and 8.7 rebounds in the regular season but raised his production in the postseason (14.8 points, 11.8 rebounds). Sierra finished 30-3 in shattering the program record for most wins in a season and captured its fourth straight VOL crown with a perfect 14-0 run.
“For two years he was consistent and he proved he can perform in big games and lead a team to championships,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said. “He was a warrior for us this year. He made big play after big play and was a double-double machine, a guy who can stretch the floor (with his 3-point shooting), a guy who can make tough shots off of rebounds and he was our leading free-throw shooter.
“He did a lot for us.”
“The one word, if you had to choose one to describe Hunter, is that he’s a winner,” Rooney said. “Certainly in every sport he’s played he has won. I think people gravitate toward him because of his leadership qualities and he’s a very unselfish person overall. That combined with his talent are things that we look for in our program, and we are very excited to have the opportunity to coach him in the next four years.”