Former NMU star Isaiah Johnson talks pro journey after inking contract overseas

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Marquette, Mich. (WJMN) – Former Northern Michigan basketball star Isaiah Johnson will be heading overseas this Fall to play professionally. His journey to the pros didn’t come without some unexpected turns.

After graduating from NMU in 2019, Isaiah johnson had pro basketball on his mind. But then the pandemic hit and Johnson’s plans to make a living playing the sport he loved, like the world around him, came to a sudden halt.

“The hope was to graduate and then go play right away,” said Johnson. “Maybe get picked up as a transfer player. If a team dropped a player and needed someone else that would have been what I would have done. But it didn’t happen right away.”

Johnson turned his focus to fighting for social justice co-founding the empowerment organization: Athlete’s Igniting Action all while staying basketball ready.

“When I wake up and I go work out you know that’s all I’m doing, that’s all I’m focused on,” said Johnson. “Then when I’m doing things for Athletes Igniting Action that’s where all my focus is. I don’t try to do both at the same time. It’s two different worlds almost.”

Eventually, his time would come.

“My agent called me last Monday and told me that there was a team that was interested in me. So I got my hopes up a little bit, but I knew until I signed it was not official,” said Johnson. “So for the next week, until I finally got the contract and signed it, I couldn’t sleep and I was nervous all the time. But after signing, it was one of the best days of my life, for sure.”

Johnson says he’s excited for his next chapter playing for Ponte Prinzeni in Kosovo.

“To be honest, it still really hasn’t set in yet that I finally, you know, achieved that dream,” said Johnson. “I feel like it won’t set in until it gets closer to the point of me actually getting on the plane and traveling twelve plus hours oversees.”

Johnson says his tentative plan is to head overseas this august 25th for training camp.

“I’ve never really been out of the country before so just to go somewhere and experience a new culture, I’m really excited,” said Johnson. “I know it’s going to come with a lot of challenges. They speak Albanian and I tried to look up some of those words and I couldn’t even get close to pronouncing anything. So, I know it’s going to come with a couple of challenges, but I’m still looking forward to it.”

The four years that Johnson spent on the campus of Northern Michigan prepared Johnson for this next step.

“Coach Sall, Coach Belt, and Terry Nash they helped shape me into the man I am today,” said Johnson. “Just to have people in your corner like that and believe that, yeah you’re a good player, but you could be a great player. To have that confidence in you and to eventually have it shape out that way, I owe a lot of my success to them. They changed my life, for sure.”

Johnson says the obstacles he has faced the last few years have only made his most recent accomplishment mean that much more.

“Everything is going to come with some bumps in the road and you’re achievements honestly wouldn’t feel as good if there weren’t any obstacles that you have to get over,” said Johnson. “But the main thing is just never giving up on yourself if you really want something. You at least got to try because otherwise, you’re just going to regret it. So, that basically how I’ve been living the last year and a half.”

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