Carl “Pujack” Johnson showed his coaching potential even as a topnotch player for the Bridgehampton High School boys basketball team four decades ago, and is being inducted into the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame for his prowess on both sides of his basketball career.
Making clutch shots while also delegating assignments to his teammates, Johnson earned the reputation of being one of the best point guards in the state, and has three championship rings — from 1978 to 1980 — to prove it.
But there would be more for the silky-smooth guard. Even when an accident ended his playing career prematurely, Johnson continued to mentor young athletes, and eventually took over the helm of the varsity squad when John Niles retired. Despite coaching at one of the smallest schools in the state — with many small in stature players to boot — Johnson stressed pride and the Killer Bees’ reputation for playing any team, any time, regardless of size.
It all came together in 1998 when the Bees won the New York State Class D title, then won it again the following year, and again in 1980, matching the threepeat Johnson experienced as a player. Last week he was informed of his induction among other state elites including local legends Ed Petrie (East Hampton) and Rich Wrase (Westhampton), two coaches Johnson matched wits with for years. “I’m honored to be in there with those two,” Johnson said.
Pujack, as he is known locally, grabbed one last title in 2015. Indicative of the strong roots the program has within the community, the MVP of Johnson’s very first year at coaching a team was Charles Maurice “Mo” Manning. Eighteen years later, with Johnson still the coach, the award went to Charles Manning Jr.
Johnson also drew praise from the Cummings brothers, Benjamin and Orson, who directed the documentary “Killer Bees,” released last year. Shaquille O’Neal was a co-producer.
Johnson, always in demand, could choose to return to coaching at some level, though for now he is working with local student-athletes at the Bridgehampton School. In fact, word has it he’s fashioned quite the elementary school team.
“I have sixth graders who are good, who could probably play varsity right now,” he said, his voice almost giddy. “They’ve been together since kindergarten.” So far, though, Johnson hasn’t seriously considered making a comeback. “I thought about it. My wife said give yourself some time to breathe.” But it’s hoop season. Johnson plans on flying down to watch young Manning play in a week or two. Beyond that, the pilot light remains on, “if the right opportunity comes along.”