University at Albany senior point guard Mike Johnson hopes to make an immediate impact in his season debut at American tonight at 7:30 at Bender Arena in Washington.
Johnson, suspended for the first two games of the season because of a disorderly conduct incident last July 4, has been the Great Danes’ best player in practice, so far. He is the team’s most competent ball-handler and backcourt defender. He also has improved his outside shot, and has become one of the team vocal leaders.
After committing more than 50 turnovers in their first two games, it’s obvious the 0-2 Danes could use some help distributing the ball, and Johnson is up for the challenge.
“I am very excited to finally play my first game. I can’t wait,” said Johnson, a 6-footer who led the team in assists last season. “I’ve been working hard in practice, especially on my shooting, to build my confidence. I’m glad to have the support of my teammates, and I plan to give my best effort. I know the guys have been talking about me being the savior. I don’t know about that, but I will do my best. I think I can help.”
UAlbany head coach Will Brown said getting Johnson back should help all the Great Danes relax and concentrate on their own individual roles.
“He’s been terrific in practice. I didn’t let him play in either one of our scrimmages, because I knew he wouldn’t be playing in our first two games. I needed to prepare for those games without him,” Brown said.
“He’s got to be anxious, but I think he’s going to be a calming force for all the guys. The biggest thing is that he handles the ball well, and he’s our best perimeter defender. He’s also a man out there, and the guys listen to him.”
Joining Johnson in the UAlbany starting lineup will be 6-5 senior forward Will Harris, who is averaging 16 points and three rebounds; 6-10 redshirt freshman forward Jake Lindfors (4.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg); 6-11 senior center Brett Gifford (1.5, ppg, 5.0 rpg); and 6-0 junior guard Tim Ambrose (16.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
Freshman guards Mike Black (4.5 ppg), Derrek Tartt (1.5 ppg) and Logan Aronhalt (3.0 ppg), 6-8 senior forward Scotty McRae (3.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and 6-9 freshman center Blake Metcalf should see plenty of action, along with swingman Billy Allen.
Fran Urli, a 6-8 junior forward who transferred from Panola (Texas) College and started the first game of the season at Syracuse, probably won’t play because of an ankle injury. He sat out Sunday’s practice.
American (0-1) is one of the youngest teams in the nation after losing all five starters from last year’s Patriot League championship team. Nick Hendra, a 6-3 junior, is the team’s top returning scorer (6.3 ppg). Stephen Lumpkin, a 6-8 forward, had 10 points and eight rebounds in the Eagles’ 65-61 loss to St. Francis (Pa.). Riley Grafft, a 6-10 center, scored 14 points in his collegiate debut.
“American is the kind of team that plays a lot in the halfcourt, with a lot of sets,” said Brown. “We will try to pressure them and give them less time to perform in the halfcourt. I think this will be a good test for us. We will try to pick up the tempo and try to get them to play more in transition. We expect them to play a lot of 3-2 zone against us, but they should also mix it up with a little man-to-man.”
The Danes return home to play three straight games in the 2K Sports Classic Friday through Sunday.
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Categories: College Sports