Had I written this article last night, like I'd planned, it'd be a very different story. But with the injury to Kadeem Jack, Austin Johnson becomes an even more integral figure for the 2011-12 Scarlet Knights. The junior showed flashes last year, especially against Providence, but seemed to get worn down against the Big East's bigger players as the season went on.
Now, Johnson--who was being pushed for a starting role by Jack--needs to step up and be more than just a role player.
More after the jump...Austin Johnson looked like a completely different player in the JSBL this year. In a league where defense is mostly a rumor, Johnson displayed a bigger body and an impressive hook shot with both hands. Johnson had debuted that hook in last year's out of conference games. But he appeared to find it consistently in the summer. If he can hold on to that shot in the Big East--a shot that really hard to defend no matter the height--Johnson could find himself the vocal point of the Rutgers offense.
A bigger deal is Johnson's rebounding and defense. Since he's an undersized forward, Johnson really has to use position to his advantage. He has to have lower body strength to both box out players and move them out of the key on defense. Rice's switching defense can really help out Johnson, as it can move him from a player bigger than him on to a smaller player. From this vantage point, Johnson's foot speed with also be important.
Johnson is also going to be needed as a vocal leader. Early reports and quotes from Mike Rice say that Johnson has taken on the role. This team of mostly freshman is going to need as many voices from upperclassmen as possible.
While most eyes are going to be on Dane Miller, Austin Johnson is going to find himself in a role nearly as important. With Jack out for most of the season, Johnson is only being backed up by freshman who've never experienced life in the Big East. Johnson needs to step up and be the player Rutgers needs. Everything is in place for Johnson to have a huge year.