GARDEN GROVE, Calif – Brice Johnson participated in the adidas Nations tournament this past weekend as a college counselor and spent his time playing alongside 40 of the top college players in the country.
He averaged 8.0 points and 7.3 rebounds on 48.4 percent shooting in four games.
UNC players have not often participated in these summer camps in the past. Justin Jackson played at the Nike Skills Academy earlier this summer, but how did you end up at this adidas camp all the way out in California?
Well, I wasn’t able to go to the Nike one because of my class. I had to take a class this summer and I really needed that one so I didn’t go to that. My AAU coach told me there was an offer to come out here and do this. I was like ‘That’s fine.’ I wanted to be able to do something. I mean it’s a good thing to come out here instead of sitting at home for three weeks and not doing anything except for working out by myself. I get a chance to play against some different guys and not play against guys like Isaiah, Joel, or Kennedy all the time. It’s something different for me and a reason for me to get out of the house.
How’s your experience here?
It’s been okay. You have to know coming into these camps that it is a guard-oriented camp and they don’t really throw it inside as much. The last game they had a mismatch at my end and they started to exploit it a little bit. I started to get a couple easy dunks and a couple easy finishes.
In the last game while you had a mismatch on offense, you also had to guard Devin Robinson (Florida) out on the perimeter. How was that?
It’s different. I’m going to have to play against guys like that on the next level. I mean, even this level. Guys like Georges Niang from Iowa State he plays like a 3-man, even though he’s a 4-man. It’s something I have to be able to do to move forward.
This summer you again got to play against a lot of the older alumni while back in Chapel Hill. How did those scrimmages go?
It’s been great. Those guys, they beat up on us sometimes, but we do get them and they get a little frustrated also. It’s been good playing against them. Those guys know what Coach Williams wants us to do. We’re able to learn from them to know what to expect when you go to the next level so they just talk to us.
Who did you usually guard?
It just depends on who is home. Sometimes they have two 5-men and I’ll have to guard T-Hans or Tyler Zeller. They come at different times of the year so it just depends on who is there.
Has anyone taken you under their wing or been more helpful than others?
They are all helpful. They are a lot bigger and stronger than I am. I gotta get used to playing against guys like that. I could potentially have to play the 5 this year sometimes. Coach Williams does like to do that sometimes. I did play it quite a bit my first two years. It helps me in the long run.
Talking about playing against bigger and stronger guys, it looks like you have definitely gotten stronger in the upper body.
I weighed in here at 228. It’s not bad weight like it was last year. I was 187 as a freshman. I was this weight last year, but it wasn’t good weight. After I hurt my ankle I kept hurting it over and over so it was never good weight. Now it’s good weight I have with my body and it feels pretty good to play with it.
What are your personal goals for your senior season?
Just do what I have to do. I did a great deal for the team last year. Just have to do that and a little bit more. I can really help out a lot more on the defensive end. They know I can score down low so its just whatever my teammates need me to do I can go out and do it.
There is a lot of preseason optimism. UNC is routinely talked about as a top five team for 2015-16. Have you guys talked about team goals for the season?
Yeah, it’s in our minds that we could be number one but at the end of the day you have to live up to it. It’s a number, but at the end of the day if you don’t prove it then it doesn’t mean anything. Just need to go out there and play as hard as I can and play as a team and we can prove ourselves.
You’ve got the right hand jump hook and short turnaround down, what parts of your game have you been working on this summer?
A little bit of mid-range. Shooting at the free throw line. Spacing the floor a little more. Kennedy likes to post up; I like to post up a lot too. Just being able to space it out for our guards to drive the ball. That’s the one thing Coach has been talking about improving from last year. A lot better spacing. I’ve been trying to work on my short jumper. I know I can go down there and shoot a right hand jumper and turnaround jumper but you have to be able to knock down a free throw jumper with confidence.
Is there anyone in particular who has really improved over the summer?
We’ve all improved in our different ways. We’ve improved more on the defensive end. Isaiah’s improved just with his confidence. He’s back to his natural position, which he’s more comfortable with. Luke Maye is coming in. He’s starting to get a feel for things. Kennedy is starting to get a feel for things. Kennedy is losing more weight. Marcus is healthy. Justin is knocking down shots. You can just go down the list. Everybody is just getting better. Theo is getting healthy. That’s what we need from him. We need a big year out of him. He’s shooting some flat-footed jumpers right now, but he’s getting a lot stronger. I know he’s hurting, but we need him to be healthy. We thank him for coming back to try to help us at the end but it would’ve been better for him to not hurt himself anymore. It kind of put him behind, but just need him to get healthy and he’ll be fine.
Obviously there have been a lot of outside distractions. How has that affected you guys as a team?
Since I’ve been here there hasn’t been a year where there hasn’t been negative attention. When I first got here it was the NCAA stuff that first came out, then the next year it was the P.J. and Leslie stuff. It’s nothing new to us. We just need to block it out. It’s not like anybody is ineligible for our team. We aren’t worried about who is or who isn’t going to be playing. It’s not really a distraction. We let Coach and the rest of the staff handle that with the athletic department, athletic director.
When you get back to school are you looking forward to one final year of preseason conditioning?
School starts August 18, 19. Preseason conditioning, man, it’s what you gotta do. Last year, but you gotta do it.
1-on-1 with Brice Johnson
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