BOGACZYK: After Rebounding, Johnson Ready for Herd Hoops
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 3, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – When Marshall officially opens basketball practice this afternoon under new Coach Dan D’Antoni, please pardon junior Jay Johnson if he gets a little emotional.
After all, it’s taken Johnson oh-so-long to get to Division I college basketball.
"It was a long process; you could say that," the 6-foot-7 Johnson said earlier this week. "I was thinking about it, I’d go right out of high school, but things didn’t work out the way I wanted, and basically I had to play high school basketball all over again. I’m finally here and it’s good to be here."
Johnson, from Versailles, Ky., was an AAU teammate and high school rival of Herd junior guard Tamron Manning. Their high school teams played for the Region 11 title to reach the 2012 Kentucky State Tournament.
By then, Johnson had undergone a serious knee injury and didn’t have the academic credentials to play big-time hoops. So, he took the junior-college route, to John A. Logan College in Illinois … where fifth-year Marshall assistant coach Mark Cline and Manning continued to keep up with the one-time Woodford County High star.
"I tore an ACL toward the middle of my AAU season before my senior year," Johnson said. "Before then, Cincinnati had offered me and wanted me to go to prep school, and Oklahoma State to prep school. Western Kentucky, Oakland and most of the Kentucky schools (in the Ohio Valley Conference) were recruiting me."
He returned to the floor late in his senior season – missing 18 games after surgery and rehab on his left knee -- and scored 26 of his team’s 36 points in the regional final loss to Manning and Scott County, a team that included three future Division I players.
Johnson went to Logan, where he averaged 10.7 points and 8.3 rebounds as a freshman and 7.0 and 5.6 as a sophomore. He started 29 of 59 games in his two JUCO seasons, and committed to former Herd Coach Tom Herrion’s program. Now, he’s the only incoming recruit left from those the former Marshall coach recruited.
"I’d picked up some pretty big offers from Oregon State and New Mexico," Johnson said, "and I had some small schools around home that wanted me, but Marshall was the biggest, closest school to home, and I’m a big homebody."
"(Herrion’s exit) kind of came pretty fast. I signed on a Monday and Coach resigned on a Wednesday, so I was still debating on whether to come, but Coach Cline said if he was still here, I’d be good to come, so here I am. And I’m glad I’m here."
Johnson said D’Antoni’s offense "fits me perfect – pick and pop basketball, who wouldn’t like that?" But getting to the start of practice was even trying for Johnson, who has spent a good part of the Herd’s "individual workout" period getting back in the flow after being "scoped" again.
"I tore my meniscus again about a month ago," he said. "I pulled my hamstring, too. We were playing in open gym, it was a freak accident and I slipped in a wet spot on the floor, twisted my knee really bad. They went in and cleaned up a bunch of scar tissue from my previous surgery, too. I’m good to go now, really ready to go."
Manning said Johnson is another piece in the Herd’s new puzzle of a retooling program.
"He fits in great because Jay really knows how to space the floor and he can shoot the ball, and Coach D’Antoni’s biggest thing is people who can shoot at every position," the third-year Herd guard said. "And Jay is a 4 who can shoot the ball as good as a lot of 2s can, so I think he’ll fit well and I think he’ll have good first year here.
"Before he got hurt, he was a jumping jack. Jay liked to jump all of the time and he could get up and down the floor. He could guard three positions. He’s really athletic … He’s getting some of it back, with our conditioning program, shedding some pounds, he’s getting his energy and wind back."
The 235-pound Johnson said he’s not as athletic as he was before his first knee injury. His recent setback didn’t help, but his skills and aggressiveness that made him a prospect in JUCO ball – "I just played hard, rebounded, took smart shots," he said – are qualities the new Herd coach likes.
"Jay is from a basketball-rich area in Kentucky and he can put it in the basket from three," D’Antoni said. "He has a good feel for the game, too, and will help us in the wing position.
"He is playing in a new system that has the ball moving a lot quicker, and it forces you to think of basketball in a different light that hasn’t really been taught. So, I think when he is comfortable with that, he has the abilities to made an impact."
An opportunity to play for the Herd and only about 2 1/2 hours from his central Kentucky home has Johnson anxious … as does what might be called a hybrid NBA/European style of play D’Antoni has brought to a program in which the coach starred fortysomething seasons ago.
"I’ll play the 3, 4, 5, "Johnson said. "In Coach’s system, they all basically do the same things except you might see the 5s in the post, but not in there long -- for a couple of seconds, and if you don’t get the ball, get out, keep moving.
"It’s just constant movement, trying to get an open shot, or an open layup at the rim. It’s about moving the ball and forcing the defense to move. It’s smart shots by smart shooters. We have sets, but our sets always end up in getting to an open spot on the court, basically. Just don’t clog up anything where somebody else can have a chance to score.
"College basketball is mainly focused on whoever plays hardest on defense is going to score the most points, but with this D’Antoni style, he wants you to outscore the other team, yet at the same time, get enough stops so you are ahead on the scoreboard at the end of the game.
"What people here are going to see is an NBA style of basketball -- real, real fast, up-and-down, kind of like Louisville, but at the same time, we’re not going to beat ‘em up inside. We’re going to try and beat ‘em up on the outside.
"If we’re shooting 43 percent from the three, then the other team better be shooting 80 percent from two-point range."