I remember sitting at Williams arena one year ago tonight during Tubby’s Tip-off, wondering who the tall skinny kid was. He looked incredibly athletic, though lanky. He could get off the floor incredibly quickly, had long, long arms, and moved like a player a foot shorter than him. But no one knew who he was, where he came from, and why someone that at first glance at least looked like they desperately needed to see the floor for the Gophers to get better was such an unknown.
Thank goodness Tubby showed up.
In between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Damian Johnson went from little used and little known to a game changer that may have had more of an impact on last season than anyone else other than Tubby Smith. Almost out of nowhere to become the team’s second leading rebounder, leading shot blocker, and the teams second best stealer. What was Monson thinking?
What we like
Damian Johnson was made for Tubby Smith’s defensive system. He has quick feet, enabling him to be a lock down defender in half court situations. He also has length and can leave his feet very quickly, surely to bring back memories of Tavarus Bennett. His defensive skills were self-evident because of his physical gifts, but he has a decent offensive game as well. Towards the end of the season he was beating people off the dribble, posting up, and even knocking down a few outside shots.
What needs to improve
Free throws, free throws, free throws. Johnson shot just above 55% from the free throw line. Luckily he shot his best free throws in the closer games, but he might not be that lucky this year, and as we all know, one bad free throw shooting game can change a season. Johnson also needs to improve his overall offensive game. While he showed flashes late in the year, he never became a player that drew the attention of the defense. Damian Johnson won’t sneak up on anyone this season, and he needs to be ready to handle the increased scrutiny.
What to expect
Damian Johnson should be the starting power forward for at least the first part of the season, and maybe the whole season depending on how the new Gophers turn out. While he doesn’t have the prototypical Big Ten body, he showed time and time against that this was more of an advantage than anything. With another year of experience and plenty of playing time available, Johnson should be a star. Ten points per game, five rebounds, and steals, blocks and assists adding up to at least 5 per game should land him on one of the all-conference teams.