Feeling right at home at MATC

Milwaukee native Mason Johnson key to Stormers men’s basketball team success this season

Mark Feldmann, feldmam1@matc.edu

March 01, 2022

MILWAUKEE – Mason Johnson could have chased his hoop dreams somewhere decidedly different – like at a university with a sprawling campus, a glittering, 15,000-seat basketball arena and games televised on ESPN.

Instead, he opted for the comforts of home at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Johnson, a 6-foot-6 forward for the MATC men’s basketball team, practically grew up on the college’s Downtown Milwaukee Campus. His mother, Beverly, has been an instructor in the hotel and hospitality program for almost 35 years. She brought him to the campus often as a youngster. He also attended summer classes at MATC during high school. 

After a stellar senior season at Milwaukee’s Golda Meir High School two years ago, Johnson had the chance to play at bigger schools, but chose MATC.

“To me, the school, the team, everything, felt like a family,” Johnson said. “The school is just 10 minutes from my house. Everything felt really comfortable. It was a really great fit.”

And Johnson has been a great fit for the team this season. The sophomore leads the Stomers in scoring (16.6 points per game) and rebounding (9.8 per game), was recently named the North Central Community College Conference Player of the Year, and has helped MATC to a 26-4 record and the No. 5 spot in the national rankings. 

At 3 p.m. Saturday, March 5, the Stormers will play Black Hawk College of Moline, Illinois, in the National Junior College Athletic Association Region IV championship game for a berth in the NJCAA Division II national tournament. The game will be played at Alverno College’s Reiman Gymnasium in Milwaukee and livestreamed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/MATCStormers.

MATC, which has won five games in a row and lost only two games in their region, advanced to the championship by overwhelming McHenry County College 128-83 on Feb. 27. Johnson scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the win – his 16th double-double of the season.  

“He has put in the work to make himself a better player,” said MATC head coach Randy Casey. “He has shown dedication on the court and in the classroom that makes him a coach’s dream. He’s extremely coachable and a great person. He really checks all the boxes.”

Beverly Johnson got to know Casey 20 years ago, when she used athletic department vans for student tours. She continually saw the personal attention Casey and his assistant coaches gave to players. “They value the whole person, academically, athletically and socially,” she said. “I witnessed that and was impressed by that.” 

Mason Johnson agreed. “Coach Casey was real with me,” he recalled. “He wasn’t all about basketball. He asked about my plans, my goals. You’re part of a family here and, when I was trying to decide where to go, that just hit me.”

Johnson attended St. Jude the Apostle Grade School before going to Marquette University High School for three years. He transferred to Golda Meir for his senior year and averaged 28 points and 18 rebounds per game. He was named All-Milwaukee City Conference first team, the City Conference Blue Division Player of the Year and an All-State honorable mention.

Southern Illinois University – an NCAA Division I school – was very interested, Johnson said. So were several smaller colleges in Florida and Colorado. Then COVID-19 hit and everything changed. “I decided I wanted to stay closer to home because no one knew what would happen,” Johnson said.

His mother, who attends almost every game, was thrilled. “I was really happy when he decided to come here,” Beverly Johnson said. “The small class sizes, the academic support, the community involvement, and all the things that were familiar to him – I think he felt comfortable here.”

Johnson has been a starter since coming to MATC in 2020. The 2020-21 season was shortened by the pandemic, but Johnson learned some valuable lessons. “I was ready for college, but I wasn’t ready to manage my time in college,” he said. “That first year was super helpful for me. It taught me how to do that.”

On the court, Johnson is trying to be more of a team leader this season. “Being vocal was never really my thing, but I’m getting out of my comfort zone a little bit and getting more involved with the guys,” he said. “I think we have developed a great chemistry.”

Johnson, who made the Dean’s List in the fall, plans to complete his associate degree in liberal arts and sciences at MATC, then hopes to transfer to study oceanography – and play basketball – at an NCAA Division I college. 

“I believe he has tremendous upside,” Casey said. “All of our players want to get to the highest level they can. They also need to find the best fit for them as a player, a student and as a person.”

Johnson believes he will find that fit thanks to the foundation MATC has provided him both on and off the court. “I still have plenty of work to do to get where I want to be,” he said. “But coming here was the best thing for me. I made the right choice.”