Strength, Summer Work, Alters Johnson's Game

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutges sophomore center Austin Johnson more than doubled his bench press numbers from his freshman season, and it is no suprised he doubled his scoring and markedly increased his rebounding numbers. He also is taking smart shots while shooting 69 percent from the field. He spoke with about his offseason, his confidence and much more.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Austin Johnson is still 6-foot-8 and still an undersized center, but his offseason development prepared him much better to give Rutgers a scoring and rebounding presence inside.

He is no longer the wide-eyed, weak-armed freshman trying to survive.

Johnson developed low-post moves while working out with Xavier's 6-9, 265-pound Jason Love and Penn State's 6-10, 250-pound Andrew Jone, and gained much-needed strength while being pushed by Rutgers teammates Jonathan Mitchell and Mike Coburn.

Johnson, who averaged 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds per game last season, is scoring 7.3 points and averaging 3.5 rebounds as the Scarlet Knights (4-2) ready to host Marist on Tuesday (7:30 p.m.) at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Most impressively, though, is Johnson is shooting a staggering 69 percent (20- of 29) from the field.

"I feel like I'm catching the ball in the right position to succeed, and I've worked on hooks and finishing lay-ups," Johnson said. "I feel like those are easy shots for me, and I'm having much more confidence in myself to take those shots. I've been demanding the ball and I feel like whenever I get the ball, I'm attacking like I should.

"When people are banging me on the block, they're not expecting me to make the moves that I make, like plowing into them to use my strength and my body to my advantage. I like to give them two quick bumps and then use my quickness to elevate over them."

The confidence Johnson has to take key shots, like when he scored on a jump-hook to stem a Miami run in 16-point win last month, comes from working with Abington Friends (Jenkingtown, Pa.) trainer Reggie Johnson.

Not only was Johnson able to work on his low-post game with Love and Jones in the offseason, but also on his strength.

"My bench went up tremendously from when I've been here," Johnson said. "I remember when I first got (to Rutgers), I couldn't even do 135 (pounds), which is just the plates on the side. At the end of this summer, my max was upwards of around 285."

When not working out at Abington Friends, Johnson was lifting with his teammates, Mitchell and Coburn.

"I've been benching with Mitch. He's really strong in the weight room," Johnson said. "(Coburn) is really strong in the weight room as well, and they never let up, so it's been really helpful."

Johnson's offensive game has developed, but first-year coach Mike Rice is demanding better defense and rebounding from him.

Johnson is coming off the bench because freshman Gilvydas Biruta is a better positional defender and more instinctive rebounder, which is something Johnson is working on.

"Defensively, it's all mental," Johnson said. "(Rice) always says things about me not being conscience enough of the small things, and I need to be more alert and more aware of the little things and I can help my team by being a better position defender.

"I have to get better rebounding. It's just will. Rebounding is just will. It's not something people like to do, so you just have to go do it. I've got to rev up the motor more, jumping around and being more assertive, and go do it."

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