January 12, 2006

Freshman Guard Cracks Starting Lineup

Jan. 12, 2006

By Jeremy Herb
The Santa Clara

Calvin Johnson has fit nicely into the Bronco starting lineup this season, but two years ago, he was committed to a school half-way across the country.

As a junior in high school, Johnson and his brother Kendrick were committed to playing at Texas Tech under Bobby Knight. His plans were derailed, however, after what Johnson says was an unfortunate misunderstanding.

"We were verbally committed there our junior year, and something happened," Johnson said. "Some misunderstanding went on between us and them, and we ended up not going at all."

Johnson came into the Bronco program this year as a freshman and hoped to help the team as a guard off the bench. But just as his original plans for college changed, so did his status on the team.

"Brandon Rohe was penciled in at that place in the beginning," head coach Dick Davey said. "He's had some back injuries and problems, and because of that, it's given Calvin an opportunity to play a little bit more early than we thought he would. He's proved it in practice day in and day out."

Johnson is helping to fill a roster that is only returning about 40 percent of its scoring from last season.

"I think he's done a really good job," said senior forward Travis Niesen. "It's not easy for a freshman to come in and make an impact, but he's made the step with flying colors. Especially being a shooter, it's really hard to find your touch right away and learn the offense."

After Texas Tech rescinded its offer to Johnson and his brother, the University of Georgia contacted the pair. According to Johnson, Georgia was looking for an inside player, but not a guard. Standing 6-feet-9-inches tall, Kendrick Johnson has seven inches on his 6-foot-2-inch brother, and Georgia only offered Kendrick a spot.

Georgia did know, however, that the Broncos needed guard help and told Bronco recruiters about Johnson.

"We played together from junior high all the way through high school," Johnson said. "It hurt us to find out that we had to split up and go different ways because of a misunderstanding."

Johnson made it clear, however, that even though Bobby Knight is more prominently known in the college basketball world, Davey provides the same quality of instruction.

"I'm happy where I'm at. He's a great coach," Johnson said. "He knows what he's talking about. He's been in the system awhile."

Coming to Santa Clara instead of Texas Tech was also a little tougher for Johnson because of his Texas roots.

Johnson's hometown is Morton, Texas, where he was a two-time, first-team all-state selection in high school. His town has a population of 2,249 -- smaller than the number of students in the College of Arts and Sciences.

"He is extremely unique and it's really cool to have him on the team," Niesen said. "He comes from Texas and definitely lets us know that, especially after they beat my team, USC."

While Johnson struggled against Portland in the WCC opener Saturday, finishing 2-for-7 from the floor, he hit a clutch three-pointer with 2:07 left to extend the Broncos lead to nine and end the Pilots' rally.

Despite his struggle against the Pilots, Johnson is fourth in the WCC in three-point shooting, averaging 2.23 per game. He is the only freshman in the top 15.

"He's done a great job adapting to the speed and the quickness, all the little things you have to do in college basketball," sophomore forward Mitch Henke said. "He stepped up right away and proved he can hit shots and play defense on a lot of guys."

While Johnson's shooting percentage is impressive, his teammates are also pleased with his defensive play.

"I think the hardest thing is to come in and learn all of our team principles on the defensive end," Niesen said. "He's done a really good job and shown he can defend at this level, which means you can play. It doesn't matter if you can make shots if you can't defend; being a shooting guard at this level, you can't play."

Johnson, along with sophomore point guard Brody Angley, make up one of the youngest backcourts in the WCC.

"Brody is concerned primarily with getting the ball to other people," Davey said. "Calvin's a good guy to give it to because he can shoot the ball."

Angley said of Johnson: "I know as a point guard, he makes my job easier, just passing it to him and having him hit shots."

As underclassmen, Angley and Johnson will likely be playing with each other for the next two years.

"It's going to be one of the best backcourts in the WCC, if not the best," Henke said.