Eight months after wrong-way basket, Trey Johnson and the Hugo football team have shot at playoffs

CHARGING AHEAD — Remember the kid who scored the basket for the wrong team in the state basketball tournament? Trey Johnson and the Hugo Buffaloes use that moment as motivation.
by Jenni Carlson Published: November 7, 2013


photo - Hugo High School's Trey Johnson is all smiles as he puts on his helmet while coming out of the locker room to begin team football practice in Hugo, Okla. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. The Buffaloes are preparing for their last game of the season against Antlers. The team moves on to the playoffs with a win over the Bearcats.  Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Hugo High School's Trey Johnson is all smiles as he puts on his helmet while coming out of the locker room to begin team football practice in Hugo, Okla. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. The Buffaloes are preparing for their last game of the season against Antlers. The team moves on to the playoffs with a win over the Bearcats. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

HUGO — Trey Johnson and his Hugo teammates are facing a win-or-your-season-is-over game.

Again.

Things didn't go so well last time.

If his name sounds familiar, that's because it is. Trey was the kid who scored the game-winning, buzzer-beating basket in the state tournament — for the other team. Millwood went on to win the title last March, and Trey went home in tears.

In the days that followed, media near and far picked up his story. It went from the front of our sports section to USA Today to Deadspin to England's Daily Mail on the other side of the ocean. Thousands watched the video of the play on YouTube, but plenty of folks refused. It was too hard to watch him break into the backcourt and drive to the basket.

We wanted to holler at him to stop.

But of course, he didn't.

We were happy that he was courtside at a Thunder game a few days later. It was great to see him high-fiving players and holding Russell Westbrook's shoes, but still, we worried about Trey.

How would he handle this?

Now, eight months after that wrong-way basket, Trey finds himself in another make-or-break game on the football field. Hugo will play Antlers, and the winner will get the fourth and final playoff spot out of District 2A-6.

The loser will be done.

Trey can hardly wait.

“I like the showtime,” he said as he sat in the deserted gym at Hugo High earlier this week. “I like the spotlight.

“I like to make stuff happen.”

What happened last March didn't cripple him, didn't send him into a shell. It did change him — for the better.

*

Trey Johnson wanted to take it back.

Oh, he didn't feel that way about his wrong-way basket right away. In the moment after he caught the inbounds pass, laid the ball into the hoop and heard the buzzer sound, he was happy. He thought he'd helped Hugo upend powerhouse Millwood. He even flexed a bit.

But when he turned around, he saw the Millwood players celebrating.

That's when he knew.

If only he could rewind 3.7 seconds.

“But you really can't bring it back,” he said. “It's already done.”

That reality settled over him like a dark cloud as he left the court at Yukon High, went into the locker room, then left the gym. It followed him back to Hugo, a three-hour drive that never felt longer than that Thursday night.

Trey has gone to school in Hugo since fifth grade. His teammates are also his best friends, guys who he'd go to games with when he was younger and dream about all they'd do when they got into high school.

That had planned on winning state.

And in the small town in southeastern Oklahoma — it's only 10 miles to the Texas border — a state title would've been huge. Empty houses and vacant storefronts have become more common since the timber industry took a turn for the worst, and the Campbell Soup factory could only provide so many jobs.

It took three tries before a bond issue passed a couple months ago to replace the old high school. Walk into the building, and you're stepping back in time. Hallways are wood paneled. Some classrooms have been shut off due to safety concerns.

Not everything about that step back in time is bad, though. Everyone knows everybody, and the kids think of each other as extended family.

No one feels that way more than Trey.

That made his wrong-way basket all the more difficult to handle.

“Trey takes things so personal, to heart,” said Karen Shoals, Trey's grandma and the woman he calls Nanny. “He was thinking that it was all his fault. He felt like he had let the team down.

“That really broke his heart.”

Then, the texts and the calls started coming. Coaches and teammates, family and friends were first. They told him to keep his head up, told him that they loved him.

But then came calls from strangers.

Derek Harper, the former NBA guard, reached out. He once made a mistake at the end of a tied playoff game, thinking that his team led instead and dribbled out the clock.

He wanted Trey to know that he learned from that mistake. It didn't define him. It motivated him.

Then the Thunder called. The team wanted Trey to be its special guest that Sunday during the Celtics game. The day became a reprieve.

“There was lots of support, and that helped so much,” Nanny said. “It helped. It really did.”

Trey nodded.

“It did,” he said.

But his toughest moment was still to come.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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