Johnson Embraces Veteran Role in JSBL

BELMAR, N.J. -- With three seniors gone from last season, Austin Johnson has more experience with Rutgers than the majority of the roster. Of the nine playing for the Gutter Cleaners, Johnson is the only player with multi-year experience with Rutgers. Johnson spoke with about becoming a leader and honing his own skills.

BELMAR, N.J. — Even for the veterans in Jersey Shore Basketball League, the games at St. Rose are about learning.

Rising junior forward Austin Johnson, the most experienced member of the team, has had a hot and cold summer with the Gutter Cleaners. Johnson scored 23 points against the Seton Hall group last week, but has also had multiple games without being an offensive factor.

The same story goes for the Gutter Cleaners as a whole. The team started off 0-3 down the Shore, but is up to 3-4 after a win Tuesday night.

"I feel that as we play together and build up that camaraderie with one another, we can trust each other," Johnson said. "That's when we'll really benefit. When we're playing this season and already have all this experience playing together with our freshmen.

"It lets us get a feel for what to expect during the season. I'd rather lose now and look back at it as winners this season and not suffer Coach [Mike] Rice's wrath. It's a lot more easy-going here than with Coach Rice, but I miss having him in my ear. I hope that what we're improving at now will surprise him when we start practicing together."

Johnson said he finds tremendous value in the Shore League games, especially after learning how talented the league was as a whole.

"Playing against this kind of competition makes it a lot of fun, guys like Kyle McAlarney or Dan Werner," Johnson said. "I didn't expect it to be this talented across the board. You expect to see local talent and stuff like that. It's surprising. Every team has quality players. Even the guys that aren't as well-known are still quality basketball players with a lot of experience."

It was just two years ago that Johnson was a newcomer to the Rutgers basketball program.

Two years later, one of two scholarship players still on the roster from two years ago and under a new head coach, Johnson said the changes are making him more confident than he has ever been.

"It's so weird out there," Johnson said. "I remember when this was me trying to learn the ropes and now I'm the teacher. I like it though. I talk to these guys all the time and tell them what I'm seeing and what I'm thinking. I like this role. I've waited for a while.

"It's so much easier on me mentally because I know where to be. It makes the game easier when you know what to do and where to be. It's more fun too. If you're just out there running around, you get fatigued and kind of disappear."

In terms of personal improvement, Johnson said his offensive post game is more developed from last season and he has improved his aggression.

"I'm learning to use my body more," Johnson said. "I'm a lot stronger than I was two years ago and my foot speed is more coordinated. I feel more confident with the ball in the post. I'm doing a good job of drawing fouls."

Scarlet Report Top Stories