Gene Johnson, a star basketball player for St. Maria Goretti High School who became a member of Mid-Eastern Athletic Conferencechampionship teams for Morgan State University in Baltimore, died at his Hagerstown home early Thursday morning.
City Police Chief Arthur Smith said officers received a call at 12:52 a.m. Thursday for a report of a “roommate not breathing” at 12927 Little Elliott Drive.
He said that when officers arrived, paramedics were working on a 24-year-old male named Gene Johnson.
“He was unresponsive when we got there,” Smith said.
He said officers didn’t find any sign of foul play.
The body would be sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, Smith said.
“I’m guessing just by looking at this that (the cause of death) is going to be natural causes,” he said.
Johnson’s death was noted on the website for the Morgan State University’s Bears, for whom Johnson played from 2007 to 2011.
Johnson, a forward on the Goretti team, graduated in 2006.
“He made one of the most amazing shots at the buzzer,” said Cokey Robertson, who coached Johnson during his junior and senior year at Goretti in Hagerstown.
It was a fade-away three-pointer from the corner to win the Mid-Atlantic Invitational Tournament during Johnson’s senior year, Robertson said.
“The whole gym went crazy. Indeed, it did,” he said. “That was the high-point of Gene’s career here.”
After Johnson made the shot, “that big smile came across his face and you could see him jumping after ... you know how kids jump and throw their arms up,” Robertson said.
That shot also ensured a day off from school for Goretti students, who had been promised a vacation day if Goretti won the tournament, Robertson said.
“Gene was a joyful person to be around,” Robertson said.
He was radiant, always smiling and got along with all his teammates and coaches, Robertson said.
Johnson moved from New York to the Hagerstown area when his mother was transferred here due to her job, Robertson said.
After attending Broadfording Christian Academy, Johnson attended South Hagerstown High School for a year before going to Goretti, from which he graduated, Robertson said.
He said Johnson was very athletic for his size.
Morgan State’s website lists Johnson as 6-foot-7, 220 pounds.
Johnson was a standout basketball player at both South Hagerstown and St. Maria Goretti.
He was a part of the South High Rebels’ 2003-04 squad that reached the Maryland Class 2A state semifinals. That season, he averaged 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game and earned Herald-Mail All-Area First Team honors.
Johnson then played two seasons for the Gaels. In the 2004-05 season, he averaged 13.0 points and 7.4 rebounds and earned his second All-Area First Team honor. In 2005-06, he averaged 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds.
Johnson began playing for Morgan State in 2007-08 as a walk-on, according to the university’s website.
He played for a team that won three regular season championships and two MEAC championships; made an appearance in the National Invitation Tournament, or NIT; and had two berths in the NCAA Tournament.
Staff writers Dan Dearth and Dan Kauffman contributed to this story.