MDC: Johnson preps for USA tryouts

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – North Carolina recruiting target Brian Johnson hopes the Nike Memorial Day Classic is his last traveling team tournament of the summer.

If the MDC is his swan song, it would mean he earned a spot on one of the two USA basketball teams that he is trying out for next weekend in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"There are going to be 52 players trying out for two teams," Johnson said. "I want to be able to represent my country.

"It's something I look forward to. Then, I can just sit back and not worry about recruiting and other stuff. I can improve my basketball skills."

But until the tryouts, Johnson is trying to go out with a bang, and Saturday was a good start for the junior from Bishop O'Connell High School in Alexandria, Va.

In his first game, a four-point loss to the Hampton, Va.-based Boo Williams team, Johnson exploded for 27 points. And with only seven players showing up for the Potomac Valley Blue Devils, Johnson needed to shoulder the load.

Johnson's second game was a little more successful on the scoreboard. The Blue Devils squeaked by Oregon Select of Portland, 61-59, with Johnson finishing with 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting, one rebound, two assists and two blocks.

Johnson scored in a variety of ways against the smallish Oregon Select team. He favored the post-up, with the baseline spin the primary weapon. However, he wasn't afraid to step back and face the basket for a pull-up jumper, which was met with mixed results.

One of the NBA scouts in attendance commented that Johnson's down the road future is at small forward.

"I want to play inside and outside," Johnson said. "I'm working on being able to play the three, four and five. To do that, I'm going to need to work on my perimeter skills. I want to play small forward and power forward in college."

With North Carolina and Duke considered the two finalists, Johnson didn't seem preoccupied with making a decision any time soon. He also was impressed with new Tar Heel coach Roy Williams' straightforward manner.

"Roy came to see me the day after he was hired at my open gym," Johnson said. "Some coaches like to tell you how wonderful you are, but Roy wasn't like that. He gave his honest opinion, which I liked. He said I had to play hard every play, which is something I don't always do. It's something I'm working on."

* Dueling stars: They haven't played each other yet, but the two names often heard the most as the tournament's top player are Alabama's D.J. White and Mississippi's Al Jefferson.

White strung together two impressive games, and Jefferson left onlookers stunned as he ran rough-shod over Athletes First of Oklahoma with 28 points and 13 rebounds.

There also is less of Jefferson this year as he dropped from 300 pounds to 265. Jefferson admits the NBA will be tempting but he isn't overly concerned with it. Arkansas and LSU lead for his services, while White is considering Indiana, Alabama and North Carolina.

* Other big games: New York product Tiki Mayben scored 17 of his team's first 23 points, including five 3-pointers to lead Albany City Rocks past the Charlotte Royals.

* And in one of the most exciting finishes, YOMCA Team Memphis defeated Houston Hoops 79-77, on a rebound putback at the buzzer by Jonathan Ball.

Memphis' Shawne Williams finished with a team-high 27 points and three 3-pointers, while Houston's Jawann McClellan had 25 points and four 3-pointers and teammate Daniel Gibson had 27 points and three 3-pointers.

* Other first day standouts included Brandon Rush (Howard Pulley Panthers), Malik Hairston (The Family), Joe Crawford (The Family), Robert Vaden (Indiana Red) and LaMarcus Aldridge (Team Texas).

* Dropped out: A handful of teams didn't make the trip to the MDC, including California Team Select, which features Jordan Farmar, Robert Swift and highly-touted sophomore Amir Johnson, and the Arkansas Wings.

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