Monday, September 14, 2015

Johnson Embracing Role As Marked Man

As a diminutive freshman launched into immediate minutes, Brooklyn Law & Tech's Mikko Johnson's mentality was never a concern.

 What the little guard lacked in experience, he compensated for with a rarified killer instinct.

His fearlessness greatly exceeded his 5-foot-6, 140-pound punching bag frame, enabling the coaching staff to throw him up against the big dogs.

Johnson's smooth stroke emerged without your typical traces of freshman jitters. A lack of size and bouts of inconsistency--no rarity during the seesaw experience of a rookie campaign--kept Johnson's impact modest.

 Tech's reliance on then-senior Matt Scott (now at Niagara), a prolific high-20s scorer with a knack for getting hot in a hurry, rendered Johnson a role player.

Fast forward to 2015.

The junior has sprouted up to 6-foot-1. Johnson's aggression and all-around skill-set have developed at the same frenetic pace.

 The disappearing acts are no more. Youth-laden Law & Tech cannot afford its most seasoned player to vanish when the stakes heighten.

The flashes Johnson displayed two seasons ago, this desire to show out on an elite stage, must be sustained for the long haul.

"Even though I'm 15, I'm not a little kid no more," Johnson said. "So, my role definitely increases. This is an important year. Being a go-to source I've been preparing myself a lot but it's nothing new to me because I've been in this position since the start of my sophomore year."

Johnson upped his scoring to 17.5 PPG as a sophomore, expanding from a veritable kick-out option when Scott attracted double teams.

Becoming more reliable defensively and creating his own shot, he'll be tasked with wearing multiple jerseys in 2015-16.

 Imploring Johnson to seize the scoring reins and lead by action, Law & Tech head coach Mike Levy has burnt the captain's role into Johnson's brain.

"Mikko had to learn to be the man, once it clicked in his head his head he really took off," said Levy, who hopes to improve following a dismal 6-8 transition year in 2014-15.

"His growth spurt has happened so fast, I don't think he realizes how tall he is. The growth and evolution of Larry Moreno makes Mikko that much more dangerous. Teams can't just focus on Mikko. We have a chance to have a scary-good backcourt."

Moreno, who also saw starter's minutes as an undersize freshman guard, will adjust to more of a facilitator's role. A lefty with outside shooting capability and an evolving driving game, the 5-foot-9 point guard is flushed into a prominent role.

Nobody is anticipating Johnson to put up Scott-like numbers. As a senior who tipped the Division-I scales late, Scott's steady offensive load lifted Law and Tech from mediocrity.

"We don't want to put that kind of pressure on Mikko yet, he's not in the same conversation as Matt right now," said Levy, who returns his entire roster.

"Like Matt, he's a young junior with his birthday being the day after Christmas. So, he will still grow into his body more like Matt did. His added height and length will allow him to be more lethal getting to the basket and raising up."

Beyond the responsibility of go-to deliverer, Johnson must carry himself with more polish.

"He has turned himself into a very good on-the-ball defender, something he struggled with as a freshman," said Levy.

"He's also become adept at going to the basket with both hands and has become excellent at shooting off the dribble and shooting pull-ups. He's expanded from a kid who used to mainly spot-up."

Johnson, like Scott, will need to be pushed thoroughly to reach his full potential. Scott deferred too often as an underclassmen, often earning him an earful from the imitable Kenny Pretlow.

As a sophomore, Pretlow (now at Lincoln) called Scott a "scared sophomore." As a junior, Scott's challenges only steepened.

Pretlow reminded him to relish high-pressure moments, demanding he call his own number during crunch time. The 6-foot-3 Scott answered the call as a senior, averaging 28.4 points and 6.3 assists.

The Jets will need to utilize versatility in their favor this season. Both Moreno and Johnson will share time at the point, though Johnson has more freedom to roam and fend for his own.

"We expect to bounce back, we struggled too much last season," said Johnson.

"My team had a great summer without me, because I broke my pinky. The injury definitely made me more hungry to produce this season and make up for the time I missed."