One of the oldest college basketball players in the country plays for BYU

Spencer Johnson, 26, is in his fourth year with the Cougars, but started his journey in 2018.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars senior guard Spencer Johnson (20) as BYU hosts Evansville in NCAA basketball in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.

Provo • The oldest player to suit up in a college basketball game this season has been married for almost three years.

He has a baby boy on the way.

He has his commercial and private real estate license.

“Don’t forget your walker!” his coach jokes as he finishes up an interview.

It’s a status BYU guard Spencer Johnson doesn’t seem to like much, evidenced by his tone when asked how recently he felt about it.

“It’s awesome. It’s been my dream since a little kid to be the oldest player in college basketball,” Johnson quipped. “So, dream come true.”

Though it does come with some benefits.

The 26-year-old Johnson (born Sept. 3, 1997) is technically just the second oldest player in men’s college basketball this season. Fairfield’s Alexis Yetna (born Aug. 7, 1997) is 27 days older — but he hasn’t logged a minute yet this year due to injury.

Most college athletes enter their careers after high school at 18. If they’re good enough, they spend a couple of years in the NCAA before going pro. Those who spend four or five years in school are still around 23 or so when they leave to either enter the professional ranks or start their careers, sometimes out of sports entirely.

But at Utah schools, some athletes tend to skew older because they go on two-year missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints right after high school.

Johnson, an all-state player as a senior at American Fork High School during 2015-16, started his college career at Weber State in 2018. He left after just one semester and turned his attention to Utah Valley where Mark Pope was coaching at the time. Pope was out of scholarships and Johnson found himself without a team, so he went to play at Salt Lake Community College.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars guard Spencer Johnson (20) drives to the basket as he is defended by Utah Utes center Branden Carlson (35) at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023.

Johnson ended up at BYU for the 2020-21 season and has been there ever since. He got an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson is the clearcut veteran on the Cougars. He said his teammates crack jokes about his age.

And during a nationally televised game last month, a graphic on ESPN2 had fun with Johnson’s age by comparing him and Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum when it came to birthday, years in the NBA, NBA earnings and “Cougar Tails enjoyed.”

Tatum is six months younger than Johnson and has been in the NBA for seven years. He has enjoyed exactly zero Cougar Tails, though.

Although Pope and the Cougars like to have their fun, it’s apparent that Johnson’s age and experience are a benefit to a team that has surprised many with a 10-1 start to its first Big 12 season. Pope said he’s greatly enjoyed watching Johnson grow from “really struggling” during his first training camp to now being the “consummate leader.

“I love it because in college you don’t get to see guys for as long as we’ve got to see Spence, and you don’t get to see them grow from beginning to a really, really finished product like he is,” Pope said. “It’s actually a beautiful thing. I wish we had more guys that could do that.”

On the court, Johnson shows his experience by being a calming and measured voice, helping teammates understand nothing is ever as good or bad as it seems. He also shows it in the in-between moments.

During a recent practice, the scout team was on a good run. As the main squad was trying to stop it, Johnson played ... a special kind of defense.

“We were trying to get a stop and the ball was rolling out of bounds and scout tried to save it, but Spence just came over and kicked it out of bounds,” guard Jaxson Robinson said. “Just a little vet move.”

“Having been around college basketball a little bit,” Johnson said, “you learn some things.”