Carl Johnson did not get into coaching for personal glory. He does not like being the center of attention when it comes to Bridgehampton Killer Bees boys basketball teams that he coached for decades and led to four state championships. Those who are close to him know this. Which is why the effort to have him inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame was a covert operation, handled by his wife, Lillian Johnson; former college coach, Luke Clarke; and longtime friend and Bridgehampton alum, Ron Gholson.
The work that trio did paid off, as they found out recently that Johnson was a unanimous pick to enter the hall of fame. Ms. Johnson informed him via text message two weeks ago, and Coach Johnson said he was shocked.
“I was speechless. I had to look at the text again,” Johnson said. “I was like, this is crazy. It’s an unbelievable honor. I never thought it was going to happen. Most coaches go into coaching because you love the game, and we’re not thinking about anything but trying to help kids out and win a championship and help the kids be the best they can be and reach their goals.”
Johnson’s resume makes it clear why he was a unanimous choice to join a group that includes some of the biggest names in basketball from New York State, from fellow high school coaches from the area like East Hampton’s Ed Petrie and Westhampton Beach’s Rich Wrase, to former New York Knicks players and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
In his 26-year career coaching the Killer Bees, which ended after the 2016/2017 season, Johnson won four New York State Class D Championships, in 1996, 1997, 1998, and in 2015.
Before he was guiding the team from the sidelines, he was its point guard, leading the team to state titles in 1978, 1979 and 1980 under head coach Roger Golden, and had the rare distinction of winning state championships as both a coach and player for the same team.
Bridgehampton has won a total of nine state championships, second only to Mount Vernon, which has 11. Johnson started as an assistant for former head coach John Niles, who came after Golden, and then took over as head coach when Niles retired in 1990.
Gholson credited Ms. Johnson and Bridgehampton Principal Mike Miller with gathering all the important information the nominating committee required, and he said he worked alongside Clarke to submit that information to the hall of fame committee.
“Carl is certainly worthy of such an honor,” Gholson said.
Clarke echoed that sentiment.
“I don’t think anybody in New York State has the qualifications that he has,” he said, pointing out that Johnson is believed to be the only person in state history who has both played on a state championship team and coached multiple state championship teams.
Clarke was an assistant coach at Southampton College in the 1980s when he met Johnson, who was the team’s point guard at the time.
“During timeouts, Carl was always the one you could talk to about what was going on, on the court,” Clarke said. “He was an extension of the coaching staff as a player. As he got into coaching, I just loved watching his teams play and seeing how he interacted with the kids. He was such a role model for the kids in Bridgehampton.”
Keeping the nomination process hidden from Johnson was key to making it happen, according to those close to him.
“He knew nothing about any of this,” Clarke said. “When I spoke with Lillian and Ron and Mike, our goal was to keep it from him because he might put a squash on it. That’s the person he is.”
The hall of fame is located at a place Johnson knows well: The Glens Falls Civic Center in Glens Falls, New York, the site of his multiple state championship wins, the most recent in 2015. Mount Vernon is the only other team in the state that has celebrated as many state championships as Johnson and the Killer Bees on that floor, so it is fitting that Johnson will now be immortalized there. The induction ceremony is set for the weekend of the New York State Federation Championships, in March 2020.
Johnson’s legacy for producing a state championship tradition at one of the smallest schools in the state will forever be on display for the basketball-adoring public to see.
“It’s staggering when you think about the stats involved,” Clarke said. “When you have 15 or so boys in a class and 10 of them play basketball, to have that kind of success is amazing. And Carl has been the link from the 1970s to the most recent championship in 2015. He’s been there almost the whole way.”