Bryan Penn-Johnson, Cal Poly’s 7-foot-1, 235-pound center, has had quite the collegiate career that has led to him becoming a Mustang, including three different stops along the way.
Penn-Johnson graduated as a four-star recruit in 2018 out of Wasatch Academy in Utah and committed to the University of Washington.
Penn-Johnson enjoyed his time as a Husky in the Pac-12 for his first two seasons.
“It’s a bigger school, bigger conference obviously, and it’s a different monster as far as the work that needs to be put in and the environment itself,” Penn-Johnson said.
In his first year with the program, in which he redshirted, the Huskies won the Pac-12 championship. As a redshirt freshman the next season, he played in six games and topped out at five points in a home win against San Diego.
“I won a conference championship when I was at U Dub,” Penn-Johnson said. “I want to bring that culture, a winning mentality to this team.”
After the 2020 season, Penn-Johnson entered the transfer portal. Louisiana State University (LSU) showed interest, and that is where he ultimately made his first transfer.
As a redshirt sophomore, Penn-Johnson made five game appearances for the team. The Tigers went on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and Penn-Johnson enjoyed playing in the SEC and competing at the highest level.
“It was amazing, seeing the caliber of player I could be, and the level of competition we had to go up against,” Penn-Johnson said. “You come out to the game with a very mature mindset. You see the work and you do the work.”
After the end of the 2021 season with LSU, Penn-Johnson made the decision to transfer for the second time, this time to East Los Angeles College (ELAC) and play for head coach John Mosley.
According to Penn-Johnson, the decision to transfer to ELAC was to get more playing time and help him improve mentally and physically as a player.
At ELAC, Penn-Johnson started in 15 of his 29 appearances. He averaged 8.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 66.7% from the field.
His best career game came against Los Angeles Trade-Technical College when the big man scored 23 points on 10-for-11 shooting while grabbing 12 boards.
According to Penn-Johnson, his time at ELAC helped him regain his confidence, largely due to the efforts of Mosley.
Many teams started to recruit Penn-Johnson once they saw him in action at ELAC. Multiple Big West, Mountain West and Pac-12 schools showed interest — including the University of Washington wanting him back.
When picking a school to transfer to, he knew he had to pick a program that is not known for its name, but rather one that understands him as a player and can give him as much playing time as possible.
That program was ultimately Cal Poly, thanks in large part to Penn-Johnson’s strong relationship with head coach John Smith.
“I have had a relationship with coach Smith since I was 16, 17 years old,” Penn-Johnson said. “Coming here once entering the portal was a no-brainer. It’s close to home, and has people I have known for a while.”
Smith believes in relationships when recruiting and his connection with Penn-Johnson is strong and one he is proud of.
“Recruiting is about relationships,” Smith said. “I’ve always tried to develop a relationship with Bryan even when I knew he was going to Washington. When things didn’t go well for him, I knew we would have a great chance.”
Penn-Johnson has two seasons of eligibility left, and he plans to stay at Cal Poly for both of them. He said he’s confident in the team he has joined in San Luis Obispo.
“We are shaking things up this year; we are not the same Cal Poly team we have had over the past couple of years,” Penn-Johnson said. “Nothing but vets, nothing but older guys, a very experienced group. We are going to win some games this year, and that’s really all that matters.”
His career at Cal Poly is still unfolding, but some of his journey to becoming a Mustang was documented in a season of Netflix’s Last Chance U: Basketball, as they followed ELAC’s men’s basketball team for the 2021 season. The season premiers on Tuesday, Dec. 13.