Former UFV Cascades star Mark Johnson has been named to the Guam national basketball team and will compete in FIBA Asia Cup qualifying games. (Instagram)

Abbotsford’s Mark Johnson suiting up for Guam basketball

Former UFV Cascades star competing at FIBA Asia Cup qualifying games

Abbotsford resident and former University of the Fraser Valley Cascades men’s basketball star Mark Johnson is making his international basketball debut on Sunday as a member of the Guam national basketball team.

Johnson starred for the Cascades from 2015 to 2019 and listed Palm Springs, Calif. as his hometown, but he was actually born in Guam and lived there for 15 years.

“My dad is from Tacoma, Wash., and my mom was born in Hawaii,” he told the Cascades website. “Their families both moved to Guam, and they met there. I’m not going to lie, (living in Guam) was like paradise. If you were to compare it to something a lot bigger, it’s like Hawaii in a sense. It’s surrounded by warm water and has lots of palm trees, and a very laid-back lifestyle. It’s really amazing there.”

Johnson will suit up for the Guam national basketball team in a pair of FIBA Asia Cup qualifying games in Amman, Jordan. Team Guam faces Hong Kong twice, on June 13 and 15, seeking to improve its chances of qualifying for the 20-team FIBA Asia tournament which runs August 17 to 29 in Indonesia.

Guam is a small island located in the western Pacific Ocean and is a territory of the United States. Approximately 168,000 people live on the 549 square kilometres island. Those born in Guam are considered American citizens.

Johnson got his start in basketball in Guam, playing for the Tamuning Typhoons club team and his school squad at Saint Paul Christian. His family would eventually move to Palm Springs, and he went on to play two seasons at the local junior college, College of the Desert, before joining the Cascades in 2015.

A knee injury sidelined Johnson for the 2015-16 campaign, but the 6’6″ forward was a pillar of the program over the next three seasons, finishing among the Cascades’ all-time U Sports-era leaders in points (722, eighth), rebounds (471, fourth) and three-pointers (131, fifth). He graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a major in psychology and an extended minor in philosophy.

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During his time at UFV, Johnson ingrained himself in the local basketball community beyond campus, and these days he serves as club basketball director with BC Bounce in Abbotsford while training to become a firefighter.

Throughout his university basketball career, Johnson was being recruited by Guam Basketball Confederation president and men’s team head coach EJ Calvo to play for the national team, but his athletic and academic commitments didn’t jive with the team’s schedule. But with university now complete, the opportunity in 2021 was too good to pass up.

He departs this week for Jordan, where games will be played in a “bubble” setting without fans in the stands. The top two teams from Group C, which includes Australia and New Zealand along with Guam and Hong Kong, will automatically qualify for the FIBA tourney, while the third-place team will play in a last-chance qualifying event.

“I think the play will be similar to U Sports,” the 28-year-old analyzed. “There will be more professional players involved but the style of basketball with the FIBA rules will be similar. I’m excited to be playing. I’ll be playing the three spot (small forward) and the stretch four (power forward), and I’m looking forward to stepping into that role.

“As far as representing Guam, it’s something I’d wanted to do for a long time, but the situation was never right. I’m blessed to get to do it now. There were a lot of reasons I couldn’t play before, and it’s a blessing to be able to do it.”

Guam’s current FIBA ranking is 85th and the country’s top achievement was earning silver at the 1999 FIBA Oceania Championship.

-With files from UFV Cascades

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