Before ending his time on the court for Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, Syracuse Orange signee B.J. Johnson helped his team avenge last year's loss to Chester in the Pennsylvania state finals. Falling short of Chester, 59-33, back on March 24, 2012, in the PIAA Class AAAA championship, it was Lower Merion that hoisted the trophy on March 23, 2013.
The 16-point victory, 63-47, by Lower Merion was greatly aided by Johnson. The 6'7" small forward finished with a double-double, scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
"The team really looks up to me in big games, producing," said Johnson. "They kept looking at me."
"We just outplayed Chester," Johnson continued, referring to the win as a "big chip off your shoulder".
"We played a slow paced game which was an advantage for us," Johnson stated. "By slowing the pace down we give ourselves more chances to score. We limit their chances."
Helping to slow the pace, Johnson and his Lower Merion teammates took a page out of Syracuse's playbook. "We played pretty much 2-3 [zone] the whole champ game," Johnson shared.
He considers Lower Merion's 2-3 zone to parallel that of the Orange. "Our zone is pretty similar to Syracuse's zone. We got a pretty tall, long lineup," Johnson expressed, experience that can help for a smooth transition to his college squad.
As he prepares to make that transition, Johnson spoke on an element of his play that he feels is strong. "I'm pretty confident in my jump shot." When asked where he believes he is most productive, inside the arc or from three-point range, Johnson responded, "I would probably say it's like a balance."
Johnson offered that his biggest strength is, "My ability to score the ball. I'm a good jump-shooter, but I'm getting better at going to the rim more," stating that his offensive game is about 75% jump-shooting and 25% going to the basket.
Concerning what he wants to work on offensively, Johnson shared, "Probably like inside, shooting off the dribble, shooting with defenders in my face."
He has been in contact with the Syracuse coaching staff, sharing, "I talk to [head coach Jim] Boeheim every now and then," as well as that he speaks most frequently with Orange assistant coach and former player Adrain Autry.
"He was just telling me to getting working, focus on next year, focus on my ball-handling, focus on my strength," said Johnson of one of his recent conversations with Autry.
As Johnson gets set to join the Syracuse squad, he is well aware that one player from this past season will not be there with him. "We're losing a great player in Michael Carter-Williams, but we also got another great player coming in in Tyler Ennis," echoing incoming freshman Tyler Roberson's positive comments on Ennis.
Johnson is looking to Ennis to "step up and be the same leader, if not better, than Michael Carter-Williams".
"I've seen him play a couple times this year," Johnson offered, referring to Ennis. "It looked like all his team had his respect and went to him when they needed a plan."
Knowing that the Orange will be younger next season with seniors Brandon Triche and James Southerland finishing their eligibility and Carter-Williams leaving a vacancy as well in the starting lineup, Johnson looks at the youth aspect of the upcoming season as "good and bad". "Coming into it (the season), we might be a little inexperienced," Johnson expressed. "Hopefully we can learn fast, and get rolling."
Johnson was no stranger to Syracuse's final season as a Big East Conference team. "I pretty much watched pretty much every game," Johnson stated.
Looking back on Syracuse's 2012-13 season as a whole, Johnson said, "It was pretty good. I guess just for a stretch [of games] where they weren't hitting a lot of shots."
After looking back, Johnson looked forward. Knowing that he will be part of history as a member of the first Orange squad to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) is not phasing him. "I guess it's more focused on Syracuse basketball, not ACC basketball or Big East basketball," said Johnson.
Rather Johnson is focused on preparing for his first season, which is well on its way. "Instead of thinking I got a year to get better…now I'm pretty much there…getting ready for this year," he expressed.
When asked whether or not Syracuse's advancement to the Final Four affects the squad he will be on for the 2013-14 campaign, Johnson remarked, "I don't wanna say it's pressure for us to get back. Just giving us something to try for. Instead of getting back to the Final Four, getting past it."