Johnson aches to bring that fresh magic touch
As Kerron Johnson blew out the 23 candles on his birthday cake yesterday, it was pretty clear what he would have been wishing for.
The rookie Breakers import point guard has had a tough introduction to professional hoops as he's presided over a dramatic fall from grace for the threepeat Aussie NBL champions.
On Friday night they suffered a third straight defeat for the season to the rampant Perth Wildcats, dropping them to a precarious 4-9 and second-last place on the ladder. Right now their chances of making the playoffs, and at least taking a lick at an historic fourth consecutive championship, hang by a thread.
And one look at Johnson's face afterwards told you all you need to know about how this young man is taking his team's shock transformation from champs to chumps. It's clearly personal for the fellow who's had the enviable task of stepping into the shoes vacated by league MVP Cedric Jackson.
"It's definitely frustrating," said Johnson of the spiralling campaign.
"Our whole season is about no excuses, and we just haven't put a complete game together. In this league it's so close every possession matters. The coaching staff talk about it every day at practice, and we've got to take ownership as players to look in the mirror and say what are we not doing to get it done?
"You have to take responsibility, and we just didn't do that in the first half [against Perth], we didn't come out with that desperation. Your coaches can only do so much, as players we've got to take it on ourselves. We need to keep our heads down and keep working, and we'll look up at the end of the season and see if we're still playing or not."
Johnson conceded he's faced some major adjustments coming straight out of college ball into his first professional assignment, and there were things he was still coming to terms with.
"For me it's all been the mental part of it, just understanding the game, understanding how to get people shots, and how to be a more vocal leader. It's just growing up as a professional. You get thrown in the fire, and it's just trying to learn as we go."
Part of Johnson's learning curve has been understanding that he needs to be more assertive. That was evident on Friday night when he took on a much more aggressive mindset, and the result was an influential statline of 14 points (6/10 FG), five boards, four assists and three steals.
"What this team needs from me is to be more aggressive, to push the pace and really get these guys open shots. I wanted to make sure I could do that, and I would have liked to be even more effective with it.
"In the second half of the season I'm going to be a lot more prepared for what I'm going to see, how they're going to defend me, and I think I can be more effective."