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At 48, ex-Tulsa star Herb Johnson is still playing pro basketball

The Dagger

LostLettermen.com, the college football and men's basketball site, will regularly contribute to The Dagger. Here's a look at the current whereabouts of former Tulsa star Herb Johnson.

Explorers have been searching for thousands of years for the mythical Fountain of Youth.

Well, apparently it's somewhere in Switzerland because that's where you'll find ex-Tulsa star Herb Johnson still playing professional basketball at 48 years young.

"I'm grateful for every day that I can run and actually do it," said Johnson, who plays for the club Villars Basket. "So if you rack up those years and look at Herb Johnson and say, ‘Hey man, you've done it for three decades,' -- well I'm a soldier, son."

To put Johnson's endurance in perspective, he was a part of the 1985 NBA draft class that included fellow big men Patrick Ewing, Wayman Tisdale, Detlef Schrempf, Charles Oakley, Karl Malone and A.C. Green.

[Related: 10 players you won't believe are still playing basketball]

Having celebrated his 48th birthday on Dec. 16, Johnson is also two months older than both Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. The oldest player in the NBA entering this season was Shaquille O'Neal, who at 38 is a full decade younger than Johnson.

It probably feels like a lifetime ago that Johnson helped Nolan Richardson's Golden Hurricane reach three NCAA Tournaments in the 1980s playing their patented "40 Minutes of Hell" style. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Johnson in the third round of the ‘85 draft but he never played in a regular-season game.

[Rewind: 21-year-old poses as middle school football player]

That's when his overseas odyssey began with stints in places such as France, Turkey, Italy and Japan. He is now fluent in French and Spanish and understands German and Italian.

Johnson is doing more than holding his own these days. He leads his team in minutes per game (33.9) and is averaging nearly a double-double with 10.3 PPG and 9.4 RPG.

What makes Johnson's durability even more remarkable is his size: He's a 6-foot-10 big man. While NBA centers like Greg Oden and Yao Ming can't stay healthy despite being decades younger than Johnson, he has never suffered a catastrophic injury and is even amazed at his own health over the years.

"I guess you get your usual poke in the face and bent fingers and all that. I guess that just comes with it," Johnson said. "But nothing scoped and cut. I was very fortunate to dodge that."

As if playing pro basketball at the age of 48 isn't difficult enough, Johnson also serves as an assistant coach. That's nothing. In the past, he's even served as his own team's head coach while also playing, which proved difficult at times.

Said Johnson: "I tell that to guys in the locker room: ‘Hey fellas, I don't know everything and I'm gonna miss a lot. And when there's a timeout, speak.'"

Highlights Swiss Central Basket -- Johnson is No. 9.

Johnson now resides in the picturesque town of Neuchâtel with his wife, a native of Switzerland, and his young daughter. Johnson, who is from Texas, also spends time during the offseason in Austin. He has no timetable on his retirement from the game and has not decided if he'll return to the states full time once he's done.

"It was comfortable to choose Switzerland and why not?" Johnson said. "Look at it. I mean you're in a situation where you traveled throughout Europe and at the end of your career you get to stay right in the center of it in a place like Switzerland. I mean, it's a no-brainer."

While recent NBA stars like Allen Iverson, Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury make headline news for playing the tail end of their pro careers overseas, there are plenty of much older American players still hooping it up across the pond. In fact, Fresno State's Ron Anderson, the father of USF junior forward Ron Anderson Jr., retired in France last month at the whopping age of 52 because of a nagging knee injury.

[Related: After years of silence, USC's Harold Miner finally speaks]

Don't be surprised if Johnson surpasses that.

He's still enjoying the game and his life in Switzerland as a pro basketball player, husband and father. Johnson recently celebrated his 48th birthday with dinner in France followed by cigars and some cognac. The next day at practice, his teammates took a moment to honor him.

Said Johnson: "By the end, some of the other players -- [and] coach even -- bought some Jack Daniel's [and said], ‘Hey old man, I'll drink Jack Daniel's with you."

Johnson isn't one to plan out his future or ask "What if?" about his past; he's at peace with the fact he still hasn't appeared in an NBA game. But he did take note when he heard about Jim Morris, the Texas high school baseball coach that signed with the Tampa Ray Devil Rays and appeared in his first big league game in 1999 at the age of 35.

It was later made into the 2002 film "The Rookie" starring Dennis Quad.

"Well just the fact he stood out there and did it, I thought that was the icing on the cake," Johnson said.

"If that's how Herb Johnson ended, it'd be nice" he added with a laugh. "I thought 30 years of basketball would finally get me one game [in the NBA]. I think I have more points that LeBron James."

Cleveland, are you listening?

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