<
>

Meet Trey Johnson

As I mentioned the other day, David Thorpe saw Trey Johnson on TV and started raving about him. Jonathan Givony confirmed that Johnson is a player well worth watching. He's the leading scorer in the NCAA, and everyone says he's a great guy.

But nobody knows who Trey Johnson is. Well, not nobody. But not your casual NBA fan and/or draft watcher. Not even some people who are seriously into the NBA draft. Not even some NBA bloggers, like me, for instance.

Kyle Whelliston wrote a good profile. Here's an excerpt:

"One of the scouts was talking to me the other day," Jackson State coach Tevester Anderson said recently. "He said, 'I thought he was a kid who shoots a bunch of bad shots and shoots 50 times to get 25 points.' He's not. He rarely takes bad shots."

"Johnson has a very well-developed touch and is great around the basket," said one Western Conference scout who observed Johnson at a mini-tournament in Chicago in late November. "But he also plays with impeccable poise and maturity."

Nevertheless, I decided that it would be a valuable public service for me to share his story a little. I called him.

The main thing I wanted to know? How does a player that an expert like Thorpe compares to Brandon Roy end up at Jackson State? No offense to Jackson State, but what was wrong with him coming out of high school? Is there some problem here? Why isn't he at North Carolina or Connecticut or Florida? And whatever that might have been, will it be back to make him more of a D-leaguer than a blue-chipper?

Trey Johnson readily admits that he was not heavily recruited as a baskteball player coming out of high school. I thought his answer to that one was pretty good: out of high school, he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals. Baseball was always his first love, and he was a super-talented pitcher. He chased the baseball dream through junior colleges and the like, and only played basketball intermittently through middle and high school--almost never having time to play on top AAU basketball teams and the like.

Then Johnson had a problem with a ligament in his elbow that made it tough to pitch for extended periods, and he was going to need Tommy John surgery. So it was "hello basketball!"

Only, at the time, he was at Alcorn State, where he played two sports, and he wasn't thrilled with the direction of the basketball program. So he sat out a year, and transferred back home to Jackson, Mississippi, and he has made a name for himself at Jackson State.

What's your game like?

I can score from the outside, the mid-range, and posting up. I am also our backup point guard. I try to be very physical on offense and defense. Very aggressive. I'm about 6-5 and 218, 220. Most guards I face are not my size--they're either smaller or not as strong.

When you talk about being 6-5, able to score from anywhere, and a backup point guard, it sounds like Brandon Roy.

Last year somebody brought that to my attention. The more I watch, the more I see that. He is a big guard who can shoot, drive, create... I watched him in the summer league. He looked good.

Have you ever met him?

No, I've never met him.

All season you have been going back and forth (with Morris Almond) for the title of leading scorer in the NCAA. Is that on your mind a lot?

I try not to keep up with the average. I'm not worried about that. But I don't like to be number two in anything. So I keep an eye on what he's doing.

Is it hard to be expected to do so much?

They expect me to score a lot of points. I don't know if they expected me to score 30, though. If you went back to preseason, I bet people would have expected me to score 22, 23. But things are falling into place for me.

It's tough, though. I see a lot of double teams, triple teams, box and ones. I am asked to do a lot. The team needs me to do a lot.

Some scouts question my ability to defend. But I feel like I play physical defense, and in crunch time I feel I can stop the other team's best player.

What has been your best game?

I scored 49 against UTEP, but I also helped some teammates get some open looks in that game, too. Against SE Louisiana [33 points on 13-22 shooting, four rebounds, five assists] and Alabama State [38 points on 10-21 shooting, 10 rebounds, and no assists]. Against Rutgers [20 points on 7-19 shooting, six rebounds, two assists] I played a lot of point guard, because our point guard was in foul trouble. I enjoy playing point guard. It doesn't feel any different to me. You just have to control the team, the pace, and make sure that everyone is getting the shots.

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the NBA?

Of course. Since I was little I wanted to play professional sports. Football, basketball, baseball... I loved baseball more than all of them. But now basketball is my sport, and playing professionally has been a dream of mine for a while now.

What have you heard about where you might fit in this draft?

I know this draft is heavy on big guys. And I'm happy just to be on the draft board. At the same time, I watch a lot of basketball, and I don't think there are three to five guards who are better than me on the court.

Why doesn't everyone know your name already?

I started playing basketball late. I played basketball in eighth and ninth grade, and on and off during high school. I played on some AAU teams a little bit. But it was getting in the way of baseball. Also, in high school I played in the post. I had to switch positions, which meant a lot of work in college. Then I transferred schools, and last year I was one of the top scorers in the nation. Everyone was wondering who is this kid? I put my name in the NBA draft, and worked out for one team. That was Milwaukee. Now some more people started to know who I am. The mystique is bigger now. Teams come to our practices. Team scouts have been to our games more than once.

Are you hearing from a lot of agents who want to represent you?

Those calls come daily. But I'm not focused on that. I'm trying to focus on getting to the NCAA tournament. We were number one in our conference, but lost a heartbreaker on Saturday. I feel like we should win the conference. There's not a team in our conference that's better than us. The only way we can lose is if we beat ourselves. Ask anybody else in the conference.