BILLINGS — After a month and a half of stressful uncertainty, Brendon Johnson has a college basketball destination.
Johnson, an outgoing Livingston senior, signed with North Idaho College on Saturday, he told 406mtsports.com. The 6-foot-5 guard signed with Sheridan (Wyoming) College in April, but he had to search for another school after Sheridan cut its NJCAA Division I athletic programs.
“I was so stressed. It was terrible,” Johnson said Monday. “But I got through it and got a good spot out of it.”
Sheridan shuttered its programs because of financial issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. The junior college announced the decision on June 25.
Johnson got a call from Sheridan head men’s basketball coach Cody Ball that day, and he figured it was related to COVID-19. But he expected Ball to inform him about changes to the upcoming season, not the termination of the entire basketball program.
“I was devastated,” Johnson said. “I was excited to go to Sheridan.”
It didn’t take long for Johnson to receive interest from other schools. In addition to NIC, he was in contact with Williston (North Dakota) State, Tacoma (Washington) Community College and United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota.
NIC reached out to Johnson about a couple weeks ago, he said, and he credited RayQuan Evans for recommending Johnson to NIC’s coaches. Evans is a Billings Skyview graduate who starred for the NIC men’s basketball team and now plays at Florida State.
Evans didn’t have to do much to sell Johnson on the junior college in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The Cardinals went 28-1 last season and won the 2018 and 2019 Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament titles.
Neither of those championships, however, are officially recognized. NIC had to vacate them last year for committing multiple violations, including the use of booster club funds for athlete housing, according to the Spokesman-Review. One of the sanctions included a three-season postseason ban, which means NIC won’t be eligible to compete in the postseason until 2022-23.
Johnson said he might redshirt, which would extend his stay at NIC through the 2022-23 season. Although eligibility windows might shift depending on the status of COVID-19 in the United States. Spring sports across the country were canceled, and several college conferences — including the Big Sky and Mountain West — have postponed fall sports.
Neither the pandemic nor NIC’s sanctions subdued Johnson’s excitement about playing for the Cardinals, who he praised for their success and ability to get players like Evans recruited by big programs.
“I’m super stoked. They have a very good history. Their basketball program is top notch,” Johnson said. “This is the place I need to be.”
Johnson led all Class A boys basketball players in 2019-20 with an average of 26.7 points per game, and he earned an all-state selection. He also led the Rangers to the State A semifinals.