Penn men’s basketball just acquired a potentially game-changing teammate for its 2017-2018 season: 12-year-old Tommy Johnston.
Johnston, suffering from a rare, life-threatening disorder known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), certainly deserves to appear on such a big stage given the mountain of adversity he’s overcome so far. Partnered with Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization aimed at pairing kids such as Tommy with local college athletic teams, Johnston and his family were treated to the experience of a lifetime when the youngster became an official member of the Penn Quakers during a special “Draft Day” ceremony.
Team IMPACT, based out of Boston, hopes to create lasting bonds between players, coaches and these inspiring children. Amanda Palmer, Team IMPACT’s Regional Director, attested to the strength of these connections when talking about Penn head coach Steve Donahue, who previously helped Team IMPACT when he was coaching at Boston College.
“[Coach Donahue] texts with his Team IMPACT player [whom he met while at Boston College] who’s now a freshman in college,” Palmer said, also mentioning that Donahue’s previous contribution was Team IMPACT’s second-ever event.
Donahue, in his address to the media, certainly seemed touched by Tommy’s journey and the work that Team IMPACT has been doing as he sat next to his new recruit. He described the moment as the best day in Penn basketball’s storied history, expressing the time and effort his recruiting team devoted to getting Tommy in a Quakers jersey.
“We talk about grit, about fighting through adversity, and no one displays that more than Tommy,” Donahue added, before helping Tommy fit into his new red and blue threads.
After Tommy donned his jersey, everyone in attendance, including the basketball team itself, watched intently as the 12-year-old signed his letter of intent to the University of Pennsylvania, and filled the room with thunderous applause.
Tommy then got his chance to address the media, and he didn’t let it go to waste.
“Shout-out to Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, because they got me here, and shout-out to all my gym teachers for making me better at basketball,” Johnston said to a crowd of smiling faces.
The media, after Johnston’s short-but-sweet statement, then posed some hard-hitting questions to the sensation, who hit back with some rib-cracking responses.
“Tommy, can you dunk a basketball?” one unprepared reporter asked.
“No, I’m too short,” quipped Johnston as the crowd partook in uproarious amusement.
Another naïve member of the media shot a question at Johnston: “Who’s your favorite player on the Penn basketball team?”
“Myself, of course,” Johnston proclaimed. The audience immediately burst into laughter to mark the end of an uplifting and unforgettable afternoon in Penn basketball history.
“It means everything,” Palmer said, referring to the significance of the day’s events to Tommy and his family.
Shortly after the press conference, Tommy got to run out onto the Palestra floor with coach Donahue and the team before the Quakers took on La Salle in a Big 5 matchup.
Despite the final outcome, the day was most definitely a win for the program.
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