Weight Gain Fueling Defensive Growth

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Brice Johnson’s offensive skill set has been on display ever since his AAU days. His defensive ability, however, has been a point of contention throughout his career at North Carolina.

A beefed-up Johnson spoke confidently about his weight gain serving a valuable role in his defensive development during the ACC’s Operation Basketball media event on Wednesday.

The junior forward has packed on roughly 40 pounds over the past two years and currently weighs in the 226-228 range. Johnson laughed when noting that freshman guard Joel Berry (6-0) weighs more than he did when arriving at UNC.

Johnson, who stands 6-foot-9, expects to play closer to 225 during the season.

Bulk, even of the lean variety, is a necessity to establishing position in the post on both ends of the floor. Throughout his first two seasons, Johnson’s athleticism allowed him to block 62 shots, although sizable opponents regularly backed him down into scoring position.

That will no longer be the case, according to Johnson.

“I won’t be bullied,” Johnson said. “I can be the bully now and not be bullied.”

He said he’s more confident in his ability to exchange body blows with opponents in carving out a spot on the block, while also even dictating movement instead of being pushed around.

His adjustment period to the weight change wasn’t a smooth one over the summer months. Johnson spent a lot of his time rehabbing an ankle injury, which stalled his adaptation phase.

After not feeling comfortable with the weight for a stretch of time, he thought was beginning to fall out of shape. That changed, however, once conditioning drills began in September.

Johnson said he “almost felt in midseason form” during UNC’s exhibition game on Friday night.

As needed as his weight gain might have been, Johnson’s size has not been the only limiting factor with regard to his defensive play. Oftentimes he could be found out of position or not in a proper stance, which provided skilled opponents enough of an opening to create scoring opportunities.

The mental aspect of defense – the “want-to” – has been ingrained by constant daily repetition by UNC head coach Roy Williams. Embracing those mental assignments and the dedication that fuels that level of success has been an emphasis for Johnson throughout the offseason.

“I’ve been working on my flexibility, getting down into a stance and just being able to hold off somebody down low,” Johnson said. “Being able to box out and being able to hold my position.”

At this point of his career, Johnson not only wants to be consistent, he also wants to avoid mental lapses and taking steps backward in his development.

One aspect of UNC’s well-rounded roster that could help in that regard is seemingly defined roles in the post. While Johnson alternated between the four and five spots during his freshman and sophomore seasons, he’s spent the bulk of preseason practice at the four with Kennedy Meeks, Joel James and Desmond Hubert occupying the five.

“I’d rather play the four, just because size-wise, I don’t have to play anybody 275-280,” Johnson said.

Even if that happens, Johnson finally has the bulk to handle the assignment. All that’s left is to match those gains with the necessary growth in his effort and skill set to remove defense as a weakness in his scouting report.

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