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Monday / June 5.
  • Rutgers’ Johnson Faces Tough Test in Big East

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    PISCATAWAY, N.J.Austin Johnson could be in for a long season in the Big East.

    A very long season.

    With the departures of Hamady N’Diaye, Brian Okam and Greg Echenique, Johnson is the lone remaining big man on the Rutgers roster and figures to start at center when the team opens with an exhibition game against McGill Nov. 1.

    “All the true big men left so I guess I have to take on their responsibility, which I’m not too upset about because it presents the opportunity for me to play a lot of minutes,” Johnson, a sophomore, said Friday at the RAC.

    The 6-foot-8 Johnson has bulked up to 250 pounds from 238 last season, when he played power forward and averaged 2.7 points and 2.4 rebounds in 11.2 minutes.

    The 6-11 N’Diaye anchored the middle for a Rutgers team that finished 15-17 under former coach Fred Hill. N’Diaye was selected as Big East Defensive Player of the Year and was taken in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards.

    The 6-9 Echenique transferred midseason and the 6-11 Okam left after the year.

    Now Johnson will have to face the big men at Syracuse, Pittsburgh, UConn and the rest of the Big East virtually by himself (although Rutgers added 6-7 New Mexico State transfer Robert Lumpkins).

    And he will have to do it while learning the subtleties of a new position.

    “I’ve got to work on positioning, but all that will come with time,” the former Blair Academy standout said. “This is a brand new position for me. It’s a place I’ve never been before but I feel like if I put the time in, I’ll be able to get it.”

    He added: “I have to do it. I’m not going to make any excuses about it. I have to go out there and just perform and I have to do it for the guys on my team as well, so I’m just going to give it everything I have.”

    First-year coach Mike Rice sighed before answering a question about how Rutgers will defend the post in the Big East.

    “We’re going to have to do a lot of different things, including switching defenses, doubling the post, a lot of different things to help Austin out,” Rice said.

    “What I need from Austin is him to [give] total effort every day, total focus, which is not there quite yet. And so we have room to improve.”


    The RAC has a new floor that looks great…Rice said he’s leaning toward a starting lineup of James Beatty, Mike Coburn, Dane Miller, Jonathan Mitchell and Johnson…Tyree Graham (ACL) will take a medical redshirt and have two years of eligibility remaining…Rutgers will hold its annual media day Oct. 27.

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.