Tuesdays with the Team: Trent Johnson

The head hoops coach dishes the dirt about the mid-week visit to Seattle, a city of horrors recently for Stanford hoops. Trent Johnson speaks up about Mitch Johnson, Brook Lopez and Drew Shiller, as well as the characteristics that make a team successful. Does he think Stanford's got it? Read on…

Trent Johnson:

On Washington:

They lost to a team that shot 70 percent from the field – they're really good. Jon's a double-double every night. The thing that's always caused us a problem is that they're explosive, like UCLA or USC is. People look at Brockman, Dentman and Appleby, and that the core of their team made the Sweet 16, and forget Pondexter and Tim. Tim – he's very experienced and has been around. We have to limit their transition baskets and they're extremely explosive and an extremely good rebounding team.

On Brockman:

He defends, he rebounds, he scores, he slashes, he plays well like their whole group does. The local guy, Overton, is a winner, Franklin High, my alma mater. They're doing a good job. They're on a four-game homestand, we're going to have to play well.

On Stanford's recent struggles in Washington:

I don't know. That's something you might want to talk about in years past. I don't pay a lot of attention to that. Good players compete wherever, whenever. They've really handled us up there and we've been really fortunate here to win those close games.

On Mitch's improved confidence:

I'm around Mitch every day. I don't know if he ever has not had confidence. I think the ball's going down for him. He's not trying to do too much. In the past, he took it upon himself to do things he's not capable of doing. Same with Taj in certain situations. He's just taking what comes to him and making good decisions. I think he mentioned to you he changed his shot a little bit.

On what Mitch worked on over the summer:

Like all the guys, to get stronger, faster, quicker, skill development, but for us, the one thing he knew, we knew he's got to knock down open jump shots.

On when he knew Mitch would start:

Coming off the foreign tour. Bottom line is the way he played, the way Anthony played at the two, and the concern has always how well Anthony and Fred handle the ball at their positions. We don't have anyone out front that's going to dominate and get their own shot. It's the pieces [of the puzzle]. Our turnovers last year just wasn't on the point guard, but a team-wide issue.

On Mitch's reduced playing time last year:

He doesn't talk much about it, but he likes winning. He's won at every level, and there's a trust and understanding of what's best for the team. Law Hill was All-League last year and I go up and talk to him about starting and so forth and he looks at me like, ‘Coach, it's not a problem.' I see them working hard every day. That's hard in this day and age. Landry Fields comes in my office two weeks ago -- and you talk about something that's neat – and he says ‘Coach, this is where I belong and what I want to do.'

I've never had a doubt, never had a doubt that he would respond to do the best he's capable of doing. Never. Bottom line is he is, some of the guys on this team are, guys college student-athletes should be like.

I ask whether he recruits for character:

The only thing you can tell is the skill level – can he pass, can he shoot. A lot changes because they go from being the guy to part of a team. You find out a lot when you get them here for a month or two and go through the rigors, the adversity, he's not starting, he's not playing. Everyone's telling them how good or how bad they are. Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it.

I ask for examples of things Mitch no longer does now that he's reined in his game:

Putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket low when there's two bigs in there, trying to make a play, sometimes trying to be too aggressive and get in the middle of the floor on fast breaks, but those are all good things because that's what competitive guys do. He's always been used to winning, overachieving. Just being patient.

On Taj:

He's shooting the ball better, his percentage is going higher, but he's really embraced his captain's role, he's doing a really good job for Brook, for Robin, letting them mature, letting them be okay. He defends and rebounds and what he's doing good is he's knocking down open shots. Defensively, I'll put him at the three, the four, the five, it doesn't matter.

On the characteristics of successful teams:

You defend, you rebound, and you have to, late in the shot clock, have guys that can make plays. I guess the best way to phrase this is being aggressive, kids can't be afraid to make those plays. Look at the teams that have success winning championships: they have a guy or two who can dominate in late-clock situations.

On whether this roster has such a guy:

I like the guys I have. You see them as much as I do. I feel good where I'm at, but we have a long ways to go. We have to be inside-out oriented, we have to continue to work and grind, work and grind. We've got no one on this team that's going to go off for 30 on any given night. It's four or five guys being effective on any given night.

Two thoughts. I don't think Trent meant to but he's been none too kind on the guards, mentioning twice now that they're not going to take over games.

And two, come on, give me the high six-figure salary. I can find a guy on the roster who can score 30 in a night. Brook's projected as the number five overall pick on NBADraft.net, which would make him the highest-ever drafted Stanford player. On the court, he has singlehandedly taken over two straight second halves of tight games, scoring, I think, 10 in a row against the Devils and 9-of-11 straight against Cal. So I speak up, and I think it's Trent best quote of the day…

I ask whether he wouldn't consider Brook a guy who could score 30 in a night:

30's a big number, and all I'll say is has he done it. Jon Brockman, Ryan Anderson average a double-double. Brook's got a long ways to go and he's improving by leaps and bounds and all that is part of it. When he's averaging a double-double we can have that conversation.

Fair enough, even though Brook's averaging 18 points and eight boards in just 27 minutes per game, which is competitive with anyone on a per-minute basis. Still, I was hoping Trent's response would be, 'Yeah, if only I'd let him play with two first-half fouls.' I wonder if Trent talking Brook down is for any combination of these four purposes: 1. To convince Brook he needs another year, 2. To convince the NBA he needs another year, 3. To stress a team-first, no guy's bigger than the program attitude, especially to older teammates who weren't ineligible this past quarter and have every reason to be envious or 4. To try to light a fire under Brook and provide him with a doubter to prove wrong.

On whether it's good for Brook to be facing Anderson and Brockman:

Brook is competitive in his own way and I like how he's taken things by the horn in his own way, but he's been very good and realizes he has a long way to go. I think it's good for him, it's good for us, that's what this thing is about. He likes to be challenged, he has a very, very good basketball IQ.

I ask why he played Drew instead of Anthony down the stretch at Cal:

At that particular time, we needed somebody to knock down some shots. Kenny wasn't shooting from the perimeter. Anthony wasn't shooting from the perimeter. Drew shoots the ball and the proof was going to be, what was going to happen at the other end. You can't take Mitch out. It was a gamble we had to take, and rotate defensive and offensive teams, which slowed the tempo down.

Drew was confident shooting the ball, he's getting better. The kid was a backup point guard at USF and to his credit, he's done a heck of a job accepting his role. He has every reason to because there's Lawrence Hill, Taj Finger, guys that have been in the program three or four years and are always working hard.

He's going to have a lot more opportunities.

But then to go other end of floor and figure out what happens when Drew lets him go by. [Laughs.] But he did a good job. Randle – I'm not sure anyone in the league is as good as him.

Porter and Collison are two point guards faster and better than Randle in this league, but Johnson's trying to build up his guy. I thought the implication that the Finger for Brook Lopez rotations were done to help Shiller out on defense was really interesting. Would we have not rotated with Goods in?

I figure with these questions, I'm well on my way to earning an invitation to the Johnson Christmas party, and so I pop off another one…

I ask whether he was disappointed that the tempo was more at Cal's pace:

No because also on the road versus how we play at home, you can take off about 10 points defensively, 71-65 on the road has been up to par. The Cal game tempo was to our liking because they're in the 90s, high 80s and we had tempo in terms of possessions they were getting to our liking. And that's the way we have to play to be effective. Fast games, we seem to have some problems.

Slight exaggeration. Cal averages in the mid-70s.

On why Stanford's ten points better defensively at home:

I think it has to do with, initially, teams shoot the ball better at home and make tougher shots. Cal was 11-of-21 in first half and every shot they took was contested. The three losses we've had, one has been at home, but Siena was a complete breakdown and Oregon, we defended them pretty well, but they're a very experienced team. Much like this group we pay on Thursday.

I ask whether there's a need for Stanford to change plays or play calls because of Tim Morris's familiarity with Johnson's system:

If there was I wouldn't tell you – Tim's sister still goes here and reads what you print. [Smiles.] He plays for a guy who's a hell of a coach and, sure, he knows our terminology and calls, but as much as we've seen Washington play, we know what they're going to do. He knows, for example, last year, we called two strong but I wanted to run something else. So Tim can't look out there [at our bench] and think like that. I'm just happy for him because he's playing well playing for a family member and he's happy.

The way we've played at Washington, I don't think we have anything to worry about. If anything, we'd be going to try to steal signals. Right block Brook, turn left shoulder. Yeah, we have a counter to it, but we're not going to go away from it if it works.

On Mike Montgomery:

When he's not busy with broadcasting, he comes by, he pops by, we talk a lot. He recruited me, Doug's been here for 13 years. So as much as we talk basketball, we'll talk a lot of other things.

Johnson then lightly ribs Monty for giving rather obvious advice:

Like he'll say, ‘We need to play well.' I say, ‘Thanks, Coach.' That's his advice or a subtlety like, ‘You have had a lot of close games this year.' He made a comment at some point, he says, ‘You need to enjoy it more.' I say, ‘Excuse me, I remember being up by 30 and you were stomping your feet.' I've known him since I was 17. I was one of the few guys shocked when he took off. There's stuff that goes on there, but our relationship goes much deeper.

Seems like a close friendship, but with a subtext that Johnson's wanted to be his own coach, and not under anyone's shadow, and Monty's let him do just that.

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