It's Magic Johnsen! Rookie longshot makes roster

Updated: October 22, 2003, 10:47 AM ET
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Britton Johnsen is getting a second chance at making a first impression.

Entering the Orlando Magic's summer league for rookies and free agents, Johnsen was another nobody scrapping for a job. He was coming off an injury-wracked senior season at Utah that caused him to fall from Mountain West MVP to role player, from on the watch lists of NBA scouts to off their radar.

But during a summer and training camp where he impressed coaches with his all-around play and hustle, the 6-foot-10 forward appears to have locked up a roster spot and a possible role as a starter.

"It's been a dream of mine my whole life to be on an NBA team," Johnsen said Tuesday. "I've had a lot of bad luck and things didn't go well for me, so if they want me play one minute or 30 minutes, I'll do it."

Orlando coach Doc Rivers said he is considering starting Johnsen when the Magic open the season at New York on Oct. 29. It would be the second straight season Rivers has started the year with an undrafted rookie in his lineup; center Pat Burke got the nod last year.

Although throwing an untested rookie to the wolves of Madison Square Garden is an audacious move, Rivers likes the possibilities with Johnsen on the floor.

"He's a ball mover, he's an energy player, he's a smart player, he plays hard," Rivers said. "And, at times, he can guard the toughest offensive player."

Johnsen would play small forward, with Drew Gooden and Juwan Howard as the Magic's big men. With defending scoring champion Tracy McGrady at shooting guard, Orlando would start four players at least 6-foot-8.

Also, Gordan Giricek would come off the bench at small forward, giving Rivers some much-needed scoring punch in reserve.

Johnsen's NBA dreams dimmed last season in Utah as injury and illness limited his game, then sent him to the bench.

After tearing a ligament in his right thumb in December, Johnsen missed time for surgery then missed shots when he returned because of the cast on his hand. In February, a bout of mononucleosis sidelined Johnsen for the conference and NCAA tournaments.

"I kind of lost a lot of confidence my senior year," Johnsen said. "I went from being the star player to being a role player."

It was a poor ending to a collegiate career that began with such promise, starting with his appearance in the 1997 McDonald's All American Game. Also playing in that showcase was Johnsen's future Magic teammate, McGrady.

"Our roads went in completely opposite directions," Johnsen said. "He went to the NBA: I played a year in college, went on a two-year Mormon mission, played three more years in college."

Johnsen's name wasn't called during the NBA draft, as he expected, but Rivers called that night and told him Orlando was interested.

"He didn't promise anything," Johnsen recalled. "But he said, 'If you come and work hard, you have a good shot."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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