Monday, January 21, 2008

Just Like Mike?

We waited 15 games to see. We were told that he was going to be the answer to our front court problems. Finally after 15 games, Gary Johnson was cleared to play and his 5 points and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes against TCU was a promising start. Something to build off of. And build he did as he had 15 points and 6 rebounds in 26 minutes against St. Mary's, shooting 7 for 10 from the field. We found our power forward. We found our inside presence. We found our missing piece to a complete basketball team.

Since that game. Since that feeling. The Gary Johnson Project has fallen apart at the seams. Conference play began and Gary looked lost. 19 minutes at Missouri. 0 points, 1 rebound, absolutely no defense and was completely lost on the floor. 10 minutes vs. Colorado. 2 points, 1 rebound, and still nothing on the defensive end. The last two games, Gary has looked lost defensively on assignments and on help and rotation. He has been such a liability that he has seen his minutes disappear. It also hasn't helped that he is 1 of 8 shooting the last two games, and 2 of 11 from the free throw line in his first four games.

Needless to say, Gary Johnson is overwhelmed. Conference play is a different beast, and you can't just walk in off the street and tame it. You need non-conference play. You need those games against UC Davis, Arkansas-Monticello, and Texas Southern. It is like a learners permit for college basketball. It lets you get your feet wet before the games get tough, before the games really matter. Gary missed all of that, and it shows.

What will this mean for Gary? The last time we had an incoming freshman miss the beginning of a season was in 2005, with a McDonald's All-American named Mike Williams. Williams was a highly touted five-star recruit ranked 20th by Johnson was a 4-star recruit ranked 61st by rivals. Mike just missed the first five games of that 2005 season with questions regarding his AAU program in high school, but with a deep front court of PJ Tucker, Buckman, Aldridge, and Jason Klotz, Mike had a tough time finding minutes to make up the learning curve, and he was never the same player. After two underachieving seasons, Williams started to find himself in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, but transferred to Cincinnati after the season. Since then he sat out the 07 season, and tore his ACL to miss all of this season.

Will the same fate befall Gary Johnson? It's too early to say. He is going to certainly get his opportunities to play since our front court doesn't boast any of those four players that it did in 2005. But I think we will see his minutes reduced into the 10 to 20 range as Barnes tries to bring him along slowly. I think best case scenario, Johnson might turn the corner towards the end of conference play and start to get some extended minutes into the conference tournament, but that will definitely be a difficult road to follow. Missing the first 15 games as a freshman is like sitting out all of the NFL Preseason and trying to be the starting quarterback week one. It just doesn't happen. Hopefully, we will scale back what is asked of Johnson and bring him along slowly so we don't blow his confidence, and blow his career as a Longhorn.

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