Team preview: Florida A&M

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.


Clemon Johnson was around during the days when Florida A&M was a perennial powerhouse in the SIAC. As a senior, he helped the Rattlers reach the Division II tournament for the final time in 1978.

Hired as the program's new coach this May, Johnson sees no reason his alma mater cannot recapture the glory days of old.

"We expect to win the conference. There's nothing else," Johnson said. "We're definitely going to reach for the sky. I just want them to have the faith in me coaching them."

Johnson carries quite a basketball resume into his first Division I coaching job. As a player with the Rattlers, he set team records for rebounds in a game (25), a season (412) and a career (1,494). All three marks remain intact. Johnson also ranks among the top 20 in career scoring at A&M, with 1,381 total points.

Florida A&M Rattlers

Johnson then embarked on a 15-year career in the pros, which included a decade in the NBA with four different teams. Eight of Johnson's 10 NBA seasons ended with a trip to the playoffs, including the Philadelphia 76ers' run to a championship in 1983. Johnson concluded his playing career by playing five seasons in Italy, before finally retiring in 1983.

"From that point up until now, I have been seeking this position," said Johnson, most recently the coach at Division II Alaska-Fairbanks, where he compiled a 28-74 record in four seasons with the Nanooks. "I've tried to get other positions and things of that nature. But this is home to me."


So far, it appears as if the Rattlers have bought into what their new coach is selling. Every A&M player with remaining eligibility returned to the team. And, Johnson believes he can use the Rattlers' 8,000-plus seat home gym, which just opened less than two years ago, to attract a higher caliber of recruit.

"This is where players want to be," Johnson said. "This is what players are looking for."

Johnson entered September having yet to see his entire team in action. Coaches' only access at that time comes during individual workouts. Meanwhile, he was relying on notes and advice from people around the program and returning assistant coach Maurice Sheals to evaluate the players he inherited. All the reviews of Amin Stevens came to one consensus:

"He's the one individual I was told I need to put on the floor," Johnson said.

As a sophomore, the 6-6 Stevens ranked ninth in the MEAC in scoring (14.2 ppg) and fourth in rebounding (8.2 rpg) and seventh in field-goal percentage (.497).

"To me, he's a small forward that they had playing power forward out of necessity, but it worked for him," Johnson said.

A&M's new coach is not sure where Stevens will play this season. He does know that Stevens, and everyone else on the Rattler roster, will be expected to play top-notch defense at all times.

"We're going to teach good, basic, fundamental man-to-man defense," said Johnson, who also plans on using some zone concepts. "We're going to trap as much as we possibly can. We're going to press as much as we possibly can. This is not going to be a 40-minute strategy. Our defensive philosophy right now is trying to take one or two people out of the game."

Senior Avery Moore probably will figure prominently in the game plan of A&M's opponents. Last season, the 5-8 Moore (10.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.5 apg) ranked second in the league in made three-pointers (79). Brandon Hosley (6.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg), a 5-10 junior, provides another long-range threat. His 37.8 shooting percentage on three-pointers was the 10th-best in the conference. The number of looks either get from beyond the arc might be decreasing.

"I've discovered, through notes and conversations, that we are a better slashing team than we are a three-point shooting team," Johnson said.

Yannick Crowder, a 6-8 senior forward, also returns. Crowder (7.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg) averaged two blocks per game, one of just five MEAC players to reject that many shots last season.

To hear Johnson talks, he plans on concocting the offensive equivalent of jambalaya -- with a little bit of everything. He wants the Rattlers to be a fast-break team. He wants to incorporate the dribble drive. The read-and-react. The Wisconsin swing offense.

That's a lot for a point guard to absorb, but Johnson thinks he's got his floor general of the future in freshman DeAndre Bullard (10.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.9 apg), a product of Wakiva High in central Florida. At 6-4, Bullard has more length than the average MEAC point guard.

The other possibilities on the perimeter are returning players, all reserves who averaged less than four points or two rebounds per game. The candidates include 6-2 senior Chris Watson (3.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg), 5-10 junior walk-on Jeff Kennings (1.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg), 6-3 fifth-year senior Isaac Brown (0.6 ppg) and 6-2 sophomore Reggie Lewis (3.4 ppg).

Johnson likes some of his additions in the frontcourt. He describes forwards Markee Teal and Nathaniel Drayton, a pair of 6-7 junior college transfers as better pull-up shooters who also are capable of posting up. Teal arrived at State College of Florida with only one year of varsity experience. He blossomed last season, averaging a double-double and winning all-conference honors. Drayton (12.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) also captured all-conference accolades, doing so at USC-Salkehatchie.

Redshirt junior Jeffrey Neal sat out last season. With a 6-7, 245-pound frame, Neal has the size to take on opposing, bigger posts.

Junior Darryl Demps is an intriguing story. The 6-4 forward appeared in 42 games as a reserve during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons before leaving the program. Johnson has invited him back to the team.






Johnson has been saying all the right things, and his return definitely has sparked more interest in the program. But A&M is at least a year away from being a legitimate contender in the MEAC.

The Rattlers are relying on too many newcomers, and Johnson has admitted this roster is not ideal for the up-tempo, pressing style of play he prefers.

Great players often do not make the best coaches. Time will tell how Johnson -- one of the best in A&M history -- fares at his alma mater.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.