Ben and Bryson Johnson are both making names for themselves on university basketball courts. This summer though they're taking some time with family and friends and training at the YMCA in New Glasgow. ADAM MACINNIS – THE NEWS
When the Johnson brothers practise at the YMCA, kids line up with snacks to watch.
In a county known as a hockey hotbed the pair are an anomaly - a portrait of a different sport and a different dream for youth to pursue.
Both Ben and Bryson are Pictou natives who through a combination of skill and considerable determination are making their marks as university players.
Ben is a guard for Lakehead University, in Thunder Bay, Ont., who last season helped his team win the OUA championship and advance to nationals in Halifax where they placed fifth.
It was equally as big a year for Bryson, a sophomore guard at Bucknell University located in Lewisburg, Penn. For years he has watched the March Madness with his family, but for the first time he got to participate in the NCAA Division 1 Championship. He earned the right to be there by helping his team win the Patriot League title. He was chosen as second team all-star for his conference, averaging about 12 points per game and was also one of the top three-point shooters in the entire NCAA.
The brothers are both elite players with bright futures, but they have not forgot their roots. This summer, like others in the past, they returned to the county where they got their start.
"I love everything about Pictou County," said Ben. "I miss it all the time when I'm away."
For Bryson the sentiment is the same. He enjoys everything about the county from family and friends to Pictou County pizza.
"It's always good to come back," he said.
Among the brothers' favourite places is the New Glasgow YMCA where they have spent hours practising the game they love since junior high when their older brother got his licence and was able to drive them.
For about four hours a day you will find them there over the next month or so, lifting weights, practising their shots and interacting with kids who look a lot like they did when they started.
If the youth at the Y are looking for role models, manager Dave MacIntyre says there are no better ones than the Johnson boys.
"They work as hard if not harder than anyone I've seen," he said. "They come in every day and they work for hours. They push themselves to the limit."
What impresses him even more is the humble attitude they've maintained and their willingness to take time for youth looking for pointers.
"They're just the epitome of good kids," he said. "They want to help out."
Both men credit their mother, Peggy MacLean, with giving them an early love and introduction to basketball. A graduate of Dalhousie University, she was one of the top players on her college team. Their older brother Nathan also set an example for them growing up.
"My mom's been my coach since I can remember and Nathan, I just always wanted to be like him," says Ben.
The pair worked their way up through the school programs where they earned the recognition that got them into the university programs.
But basketball has always been more than a pastime for the pair. Instead it's a way of life.
"It's just something we've always kind of done," says Bryson. "Any time it's stressful you always go and shoot around a bit and especially with school during exam finals. It's always been kind of a get-away for us and something to take your mind off different things that might be going on."
This fall Ben will get to work even more closely with his older brother Nathan, who has accepted an assistant coach position at Lakehead.
"I listen to him quite a bit so I don't think it will be too difficult," Ben says of working with his older brother. "He's a pretty big guy so I don't argue too much."
Bryson will be going back to Bucknell where he hopes to make another appearance at the NCAA Division 1 Championships. His goal is to help his team win a game there this time.
He said it was an unbelievable experience last time.
"I'm not used to playing in front of that many people," he said. "We always watched it on TV. To be able to be part of it was pretty cool."
Where ever they go after that, they hope to continue making their dreams a reality.
"I hope to just play as long as I can," Ben said. "I never want to grow up."
Ben and Bryson Johnson will be sharing some basketball tips with local youth at the New Glasgow YMCA before they had back to their respective universities to play. They will be holding a clinic Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. starting Aug. 3.