Former Chester player Mahir Johnson has found a role off the bench for Goldey-Beacom.
Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
During his two seasons at Delaware State, Mahir Johnson didn’t see a lot of time on the floor.
The Chester High School product realized late last season with the Hornets that it was time to move on and find a new home.
Now in his first season at Goldey-Beacom, the junior guard is still starting games on the bench, but he’s getting plenty of playing time as the Lightning’s top reserve.
“It was tough,” Johnson said. “I just had to stay mentally strong, just keep working, staying ready. I always knew there were gonna be better times coming, so I just kept my spirits up at all times.”
After starting his high school career at Glasgow (Del.), Johnson was the 2014 Delco Boys Basketball Player of the Year and second team all-state selection during his senior season at Chester High School, where his father starred in the late 1980s.
He took a prep year before ending up at Delaware State, where he spent his first two college seasons. Johnson played in 16 career games for the Hornets averaging 3.4 points per game. After a frustrating sophomore season, it was time for a change.
He reached out to a friend, Parris Ridgeway-Higgs, another former Delaware high school star who was wrapping up his career at Goldey-Beacom. Ridgeway-Higgs informed Johnson the Lightning were losing seven seniors. Only guard Corey Taite and forward Dante Thompson were set to return.
When Johnson met coach TJ Dekmar, he realized Goldey-Beacom was a good fit, becoming one of nine newcomers for the Lightning.
“They had seven seniors that were leaving, and I liked the system they had here, run up and down, play man-to-man the whole time,” Johnson said. “He gives you a lot of freedom playing for him, and I just made the switch to come here.”
Things didn’t click right away though.
Johnson started Goldey-Beacom’s first nine games this season, averaging 10.4 points per game but also shooting just 37 percent from the floor.
The Lightning were 4-5 through their first nine games. Dekmar decided his team needed a change. He moved Johnson to the bench in favor of senior guard Isiah Graves, a Morgan State transfer.
“I had to get back used to playing those minutes that I was playing before,” Johnson said. “I basically sat out two years. I just knew that I would get my rhythm back. I kept staying in the gym, working hard.”
The junior averaged just 5.5 points per game in his next four contests, which included one start. His playing time dropped to 17.5 minutes per contest after playing as many as 30 minutes multiple times in the team’s first nine games.
Then Johnson began to regain his form. He scored 11 points off the bench in a win against Holy Family and added another 11 in a win against Felician. He scored 17 points against Bloomfield in the next game and didn’t look back.
“It took him some time to get in the flow and remembering how good of a basketball player he really is,” Dekmar said. “He wasn’t really taking the best shots, he was forcing some things, and then he wasn’t really being as aggressive as he needed to be sometimes as well. He finally got that feel back for the game, which after two or three years of not playing much takes time.”
After scoring 17 points in Saturday’s win against 93-61 win against Concordia (N.Y.), Johnson has reached double figures in 10 straight contests. He’s also scored 15-or-more in seven of the last eight, while shooting 56 percent from the field.
Johnson is third on the team in scoring at 11.2 points per game behind Taite and Thompson.
“He’s an offensive machine, a sparkplug that I can go to at any time and know we have a chance to put up a lot of points right now,” Dekmar said.
The Lightning are winners of nine of their past 10 games, including seven in a row. With Jefferson’s loss to Bloomfield on Saturday, Goldey-Beacom moved into first place in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference’s South Division.
Johnson and Goldey-Beacom lost to Jefferson 72-61 on Dec. 30 before the Lightning starter their current tear. The two teams will meet up again on Feb. 21 in a matchup that is likely to decide the division.
“It feels good, but I know we still have to keep working,” Johnson said. “That’s still not enough. We want to win that championship, so we gotta take the day off tomorrow and get right back to it on Monday.”