Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gary Johnson providing spark for UAlbany

ALBANY - From the first day of open gym for the University at Albany men's basketball team, Gary Johnson stood out to his teammates.

A 6-foot-6 junior college transfer, Johnson showed he was athletic and capable of playing big minutes for the Great Danes.

That didn't happen right away, however.

But over the past three weeks, Johnson has become an invaluable piece of the puzzle for UAlbany, which plays at Vermont, in the America East Conference championship game on Saturday, at 11:30 a.m.

“He’s a guy that doesn’t need the ball to be effective," said UAlbany coach Will Brown.

Johnson has started the past five games for the Great Danes, including both games in the America East tournament. In those games, he was matched up against the league's leading scorer, in Maine's Justin Edwards and the conference's MVP, in Stony Brook's Tommy Brenton.

“They gave me an assignment and I took it personal," Johnson said. "I have pride in my defense. It was fun playing against Justin Edwards and Tommy Brenton because they’re both aggressive and good players. I’m just happy we got the ‘W’.”

Over the past 11 games, Johnson is averaging 6.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.8 assists per game in 22.5 minutes.

Over the team's first 22 games, Johnson played a total of just 54 minutes and compiled stats of nine points, 10 rebounds, two steals and two assists.

“I think he was trying to pick up on everything that we were doing and adjust to this level of basketball," said guard Jacob Iati.

An injury to all-rookie selection Peter Hooley, allowed Johnson to step into the starting lineup. When Hooley returned, the duo has been used effectively by Coach Brown.

“Having him and Pete Hooley on the wing is an awesome advantage for us," said Iati.

Johnson's athleticism couldn't be questioned, but he was trying to get familiar with this level of basketball.

“At the beginning of the year, it was a big transition from junior college to Division I," he said. "The coaches told me that and at first, I didn’t understand. But now I understand and I’m just happy I can have an impact on the team.”

Johnson just kept working and it all culminated in the big victory over Stony Brook, where he had nine points and four rebounds, in the 61-59 victory, which resulted in the crowd storming the SEFCU Arena court.

“It was the funniest game I’ve ever played in," he said.

Now, the Great Danes are just one win from the NCAA tournament and Johnson is hoping he can do whatever it takes to help his team win the America East title.

"We want to win this game bad," he said. "It's not going to be easy. We know it's going to be a tough game, but we're prepared."

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