Arizona basketball: Nick Johnson talks expectations, sophomores and improvements

Ezra Shaw

We sat down with Nick Johnson at Pac-12 Media Day to talk about his improvements this year the expectations at Arizona.

You talked on the podium about (point guard) T.J. (McConnell) and kind of the feel you have with each other. What goes into that and kind of getting that experience?

Just playing together. I always stressed with coach, I'm always in his ear -- and coach (Joe) Pasternack -- I'm in their ear about us just playing together in practice. Putting us together on the same team so we can get used to playing with each other. I was fortunate enough last year during practice, we were on the same team a lot, gained a little bit then and starting to gain a little more now.

(Me) being in Phoenix (watching the Suns), they're running a lot of two point guard things. Do you and Sean have any idea of you playing you as a point guard -- taking an outlet pass, just trying to get the offense fast?

We have what we call a Phoenix pusher. It basically says any guard who gets the rebound can push it. Basically you're the point guard on the break. That's one of the things I definitely -- I want to have the balls in my hands -- that's one of the things I want to improve this year, my defensive rebounding, so I can get it on the break and be that point guard.

As far as roles go, obviously you're the perimeter defender type. Do you have any expectations going in like, 'I need to do this this game, or is it game-by-game, moment-by-moment'?

I mean game-by-game. That's what coach has always stressed to us. What we did last year at the start of the season then once we started to get the deal under our belt, we started looking ahead a little bit and it sort of caught up to us a little bit.

My role is always going to be the same. I'm the defensive stopper first. I provide the energy for our team, get us out into the break and get dunks and stuff and get the crowd going. That's my main thing, it always has been.

Coach said the expectations ... you don't want to think about it too much considering the youth. What are the young guys, especially like the sophomores -- Brandon (Ashley) and Kaleb (Tarczewski) -- what have you seen from them as far as improvements from last year and improvements?

Brandon and Kaleb have worked in increasing their range. Brandon only shot, I think he was 3-for-3 from three-point land last year. He's really stepped out and we're going to look for him to take and make a lot more threes this year just to stretch the defense out. Same with Kaleb. Kaleb stepped to 15-foot, just being comfortable on pick-and-pops. Both of them have worked on their bodies and stuff like that just to further enhance their game.

When you talk about the stretching of the defense, do you feel like that might be one of your biggest weaknesses as far as not having a 3-man and 4-man able to shoot?

That's what everybody's saying. I don't really look at it like that. We have a very athletic team. A lot of people don't remember but Jordin Mayes, freshman year he shot 40, 42 percent, whatever. We got a great shooting coming in with Elliott (Pitts).

My whole focus this year was one, get more comfortable with the ball in my hands and two, keep working on being consistent with my jump shot. We got Gabe York who's a tremendous shooter. It's just working on staying consistent working on our offensive game and everything will take care of itself.

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