“We want to be perfect right now and we’re not perfect,” Johnson said on Tuesday evening in a briefing with reporters following practice. “We’re better than we were in the first day of practice, but we’re not where we need to be. But that doesn’t matter. In three days, four days, we should be ready to play and be ready to compete at a high level.”
The Tigers have had two game-like scrimmages against Tulane and UNO to prepare them for their first season under Johnson. He said going into the opener he has a pretty good feel for his team.
One area that has surprised him and has been better than he expected has been the players’ grasp of his offense.
“It’s very structured as opposed to what they were used to playing and how they played it, but I think initially like most kids when there is a coaching switch they have question marks,” Johnson said. “They see it work and they see that they can get shots if they play together and share the ball and execute.”
The Tigers have been going at it on the floor since Oct. 17 and over the course of time as things have gotten tough one thing has stood out to Johnson as something he needs to fix.
“Things get tough a little bit and we start to get negative towards one another,” Johnson said. “I didn’t expect that this soon, but that’s correctable. That’s correctable.
“And what I mean by that is we don’t need guys to be criticizing each other. We need guys to stay positive towards each other … this is a real sensitive group and you have to have thick skin to play this game and to compete at a high level.”
Johnson said that his starting five if he had to go today would be the same as it was when the Tigers had their open scrimmage a couple of weeks ago in Bo Spencer, Marcus Thornton, Chris Johnson, Tasmin Mitchell and Garrett Temple.
There was a battle for the point position between Spencer and Chris Bass, but Spencer created some separation early on and has continued to impress the headman.
“Bo’s been doing a good job,” said Johnson. “He’s probably improved as much as anybody on this team as a player since I’ve been here. He has a ways to go, but he’s doing a good job. He’s running the team, making good decisions, and defensively he did a very good job on Sunday.”
Another position that was up for grabs at the start of practice was the 2-guard spot that Thornton held down last year.
Thornton was second in the conference in scoring, but his lack of presence on the defensive end was not going to cut it in Johnson’s system.
Thornton has made some strides on the defensive end and has played his way into the starting lineup.
“Marcus is very diligent in his approach to what we want him to do and he wants to be a complete basketball player,” Johnson said. “He’s getting better.”
In addition to getting his players to play more consistent defense and to rebound and protect the ball better, Johnson has also been working with the guys on their screening.
They’ve made some improvements in those areas, but the consistency is not quite there yet.
“We’ve cleaned that up and it’s gotten better,” Johnson said of the screening. “We’ve improved in certain areas, but I’m just not one that when you get somewhere you take a step back. I have trouble with that.”
Storm Warren had to be helped off the court on Tuesday with what appeared to be an ankle injury and did not return. Johnson was not sure as to the severity of his injury and he was concerned because Warren could have a prominent role in the 2008-09 campaign.
Garrett Green Update
Garrett Green has been battling back problems and was not at practice on Tuesday.
Johnson said he did return to practice for a day and a half, but was in pain and his status remains uncertain.
Unlike in football where a player can play a certain number of plays and still be redshirted, basketball is different. A player can’t play one second of a game and still be redshirted.
Johnson said he will meet with his players individually later this week and that he will speak with his true freshman at that time about their roles for the upcoming season.