Friends beyond high school

Ishpeming’s Holmgren, Johns to continue basketball at NMU

ISHPEMING — He’s a 6-foot-5 guy who can hit 3-pointers with ease but also throw down some impressive dunks on the basketball court.

She’s a guard who can drive the lane effectively but prefers to put up a nice jumper.

Each played for their own team at Ishpeming High School, but recent Hematite graduates Hart Holmgren and Madigan Johns have been friends for years and both will continue their careers next winter at Northern Michigan University.

Johns said that their mothers were best friends and that she and Holmgren have known each other since just about the time they were born. Holmgren added that the tandem played together in tournaments in their younger days and were hard to beat.

“We’ve always been friends and we’ve always liked basketball,” he said. “We played together a few times in middle school. We only lost one game through all four years and there were seven or eight tournaments. We were always playing together and shot together.”

Holmgren said he’s been playing ball since he was in third grade and ever since then his focus has been on improvement. He also said playing at home helped him develop his style of play.

“I just tried out for the travel team and from the very first practice, I was obsessed with getting better and practicing,” he said. “My parents bought me a hoop to put up in my driveway and the rest is history.

“A lot of my game is shaped by shooting by myself and playing in the driveway. I was thinking about this the other day, actually. My driveway is kind of narrow. I’m used to getting in the paint and scoring in tight spaces. It’s hard to explain, but the way I adapt to the game was different in that sense. I also play with a lot aggression. Every time I step out on the floor, my main goal is to win. I do everything possible to win, whether it’s rebounding, passing or scoring.”

He may think he’s aggressive on the court, but Johns might take it to a different level as she is determined to win, no matter what it takes.

“I’m really competitive,” she said with a laugh. “I hate losing, even in the simplest board games. That’s how much I hate losing. Just any board game.

“I’m so competitive to the point where if I lose, even a card game, I’ll get really mad. I’ve always been like that. I’m pretty hardcore.”

That competitive spirit may cause some players to drive the lane more, but Johns says she’s become more comfortable on the perimeter and used that to her advantage to become an Upper Peninsula Sportswriters & Sportscasters All-U.P. Dream Teamer and Mid-Peninsula Conference Player of the Year.

“I used to be one of those people who likes to drive the lane and draw a foul, but now I’ve traded sides and I like shooting outside more because I’ve gotten better at it,” she said.

Holmgren is more than comfortable on the perimeter as he dials up from long distance regularly, but said it took some work to get to that point. However, that hard work eventually helped him earn a spot on the U.P. Dream Team, set a school season record for points and become the Hematites’ all-time leading boys’ scorer.

“I’ve considered myself more of a perimeter player,” he said. “When I was playing JV, I had a pretty ugly-looking jump shot. Like the ball had some side spin to it. I had a goal to play varsity as a sophomore, so my goal that summer was to work on shooting to get a nice-looking jump shot and play on the perimeter.

“That’s what I’ve worked on consistently the past three years and I feel like that’s prepared me for the next level. I shot 40 percent on threes the last couple of years. There’s a couple of games where I made half-dozen threes. I like the three.”

He may like to hit treys, but dunking might be even more of a thrill as he’s wanted to do that since he was a kid. Holmgren also has gotten pretty good at it considering he won the slam dunk contest at the U.P. All-Star Game two weeks ago.

“I always really wanted to dunk,” he said. “Before I was even relatively tall, I just wanted to dunk. I didn’t want to do anything fancy, I just wanted to dunk. It happened fast and all of a sudden, I went from barely touching the net to touching the rim in like a year.

“I can definitely add a lot more (to his dunks) than I could a year ago. Even then, if it was in a game, it was basic one foot or one hand laying it down lightly. But this past year, I made a few more dunks because I could jump quite a bit higher. So, I would throw it down with some force. It’s all about the force.”

After starring for the Hematites the past few seasons, both will be using their “forces” at the next level when they suit up for the Wildcats this fall.

Holmgren and Johns also know that even though they’re both quite talented, they’ll have to take things up a notch in college. He emphasized strength and speed, while she went with speed and shooting.

“I have to get stronger and faster,” Holmgren said. “Everybody at that level is physically impressive. If you’re not tall, you’re extremely fast if you made it to Division II. I have to find where I’ll fit in athletically. If I want to guard a smaller guy, I have to get faster. If I’m playing a bigger guy, I have to get stronger. So, I’m going to try to both. I’m also going to keep improving on what I’ve done already too like shooting and handling the ball.”

“I definitely need to work on getting faster speed-wise because it’s a new level and it’s not like high school, so I need to be better at that,” Johns said. “Shooting-wise, I need to get better at shooting outside as well.

“It’s always been my dream to go to Northern to play basketball. I’ve attended the basketball kids camps here and I’ve watched the games throughout the years. It’s a great feeling.”

Their high school careers may be over and the days of playing together in tournaments may be long gone, but that doesn’t mean the two of them won’t be cheering for each other as Wildcats because as Johns says they’ve “been in it together forever.”

Johns even managed to give Holmgren credit when asked who’d win in a game of 1-on-1.

“I’d win of course,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t know, though. He’s pretty tall.”

Even when there’s a hint of competition between them, they’re still friends at the end.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is