Armon’s learning curve continues for Nevada
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Armon Johnson calls his first seven games in a Nevada basketball uniform a great learning experience.
“It (the college game) is a lot more structured than high school,” Johnson said before a recent practice. “I’m just trying to get better running the offense and not take bad shots.
“The season has been going a little tough. I’m just trying to go out each day and get better.”
And, entering tonight’s game against San Diego at Lawlor Events Center (7:05 p.m./ESPN Radio 630 AM), Johnson’s numbers are solid – 10.3 points, 3.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds a game.
Averaging 10.3 a game is pretty amazing when you consider that Johnson’s outside game hasn’t materialized. He’s shooting 40 percent overall, but just 6-for-25 from 3-point range. Certainly not vintage Johnson and what basketball fans around Reno were used to seeing the last four years when he was at Hug High School and became the state’s career scoring leader.
“It’s been kind of hard,” Johnson admitted. “I can’t let it get to me; I can’t let down. The shot will get better.”
Nevada coach Mark Fox has confidence in his young freshman, and certainly believes his best days are ahead of him.
“Some of it is defense,” Fox said. “It’s so much faster (than high school). The opportunity to shoot is so much smaller. You have to be ready when the shot is there. I don’t think technically there is anything wrong with his shot.
“Armon is learning. He’s done all that we’ve asked him to do. I’m happy with the transition that he’s made.”
Learning to play the point in the triangle offense isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Johnson played with the ball in his hands a lot, but he had the ball in his hands to score it, not distribute it.
Johnson is a true shooting guard, but this team needs him to play the point, and he knows that.
“Whatever coach Fox asks me to play, I’ll play; any position,” Johnson said.
That’s the new Armon; the more mature Armon. The old Armon would have spoke his mind without skipping a heartbeat.
Fox’s work with the freshman guards is to teach them one spot and then branch out as the player becomes more experienced. Despite Johnson’s proven ability as a shooting guard at Hug, the fourth-year Nevada coach is following the same pattern.
“Armon is learning to play the point, and I want him to do that well,” Fox said. “Lyndale (Burleson) is the one learning more than one spot. If you’ve watched us play, the guards end up being interchangeable.”
Johnson has big shoes to fill. Ramon Sessions left Nevada a year early to start his NBA career. He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round, and is currently playing in the NBA Developmental League with another ex-Pack star, Nick Fazekas.
Johnson and Sessions are similar players. Both were scorers in high school, who had to learn how to be good college point guards.
“We call Armon Ramon a lot,” Fox said. “There are a lot of similarities. I see some of the same things. Both were different types of high school point guards; the style of play they were in was different. Ramon got better as he went as I think Armon will do.”
Sessions was up and down offensively as a freshman and sophomore. Sessions averaged 9 points a game as a freshman, including 23 in a win over Boise State. A hip flexor diminished his abiity somewhat, and his scoring fell off to 4.7 a game.
Johnson is following the same pattern, at least in the early going. He has reached double digits in five of Nevada’s first seven games. He did struggle against UC Irvine and Cal when he was a combined 4-for-15 from the floor.
It’s early, and Johnson is young with a tremendous upside, and that’s what Nevada fans need to remember.