The Phoenix Suns forward’s CJ23 Invitational Tournament debuts Saturday in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania benefiting two local charities.
“I had an idea. It’s going to happen. We’ll figure it out.”
Phoenix Suns forward Cam Johnson showed the mental fortitude professional athletes possess that helps them reach the highest level of their sport. While helping his team make it to the NBA Finals, Johnson got an idea — one he hopes will amplify the basketball that comes out of the community that raised him.
Born in the Pittsburgh suburb of Moon Township, Pennsylvania, Johnson is one of the freshest talents to come from the area. A decade after Schenley (PA) High School’s DeJuan Blair shined there before playing at the University of Pittsburgh, Johnson followed a similar path, playing two years at Moon Area High School before transferring to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and becoming an all-state player.
He spent 2014 to 2017 at Pitt before finishing his college career with the UNC Tar Heels. He was taken 11th overall by the Suns at the 2019 NBA Draft and has been a mainstay in their rotation ever since, most recently helping the Valley to their first Western Conference title in 28 years.
But the whole way through, he always wanted to host a basketball tournament in Pittsburgh.
After Phoenix’s season ended, Johnson and an efficient team have been working quickly and diligently to launch the CJ23 Invitational Tournament on Saturday, Aug. 21st. The event has both a high school (agree 13-17) and adult bracket, with the day starting at 9 a.m. at Moon High School. “It took us 26 days,” Johnson told Boardroom in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We’ll have pulled this off in 26 days when Saturday comes around,” Johnson says he was still in the middle of some final preparations when he made time for the call.
Partnering with Johnson to help bring CJ23 to life is Derek McMonagle, Johnson’s friend since high school and host and founder of his own event, the DMac Invitational 3×3 Tournament.
In tackling most of the majority of the planning for this event in less than four weeks’ time, Johnson called vendors, built up a volunteer list, and connected with venues all around Pittsburgh regarding where and when CJ23 could possibly happen.
“It definitely takes a lot of people. My family helping, Derek and Darelle [Porter, a former guard at Pitt in the 1980s and family friend]. It definitely takes a lot of people,” Johnson said.
It’s a process that’s included multiple iterations. And thanks to the high level of interest and demand from the community, a basketball clinic was added before the official tournament starts.
The CJ23 Invitational Tournament will benefit two charities: The Kyle B. Wilson Scholarship Fund, named after a childhood friend who tragically passed away in 2008, and the Ozanam After School Program.
The former is constructed to previously help kids advance their education, while the latter provides laptops and meals to children in underserved communities. Johnson strongly believes in community outreach, and wants to give back as much as possible to the place that first gave him the chance to thrive and shine.
Johnson also wants to pump basketball back into the Pittsburgh area.
“I want kids here to know it’s possible,” Johnson said. “I don’t want there to just be a great class of players once a decade.” He calls DeJuan Blair’s time in high school a golden era, and wants the installment and continuation of the CJ23 Tournament to inspire more kids to participate in hoops.
“I want more basketball presence in Pittsburgh,” he said, whether youth, professional, or anything in between. “I want more basketball here.”