Iowa State men's basketball: Johnson copes with 'frustrating' season | DesMoinesRegister.com | The Des Moines Register
Iowa State men's basketball: Johnson copes with 'frustrating' season
By RICK BROWN • REGISTER STAFF WRITER • March 1, 2008
Boulder, Colo. — As the basketball hung in the air, two hands reached higher than the rest and pulled down the rebound.
"Who was that?" shouted Iowa State coach Greg McDermott, bringing Thursday's practice to a halt. "Who was that imposter in that No. 4 jersey?"
Soaring high for rebounds became second nature to Wesley Johnson, the Cyclone wearing that No. 4 jersey, last season. But injuries and illness have forced the 6-foot-7 sophomore to play closer to the ground this season.
"Frustrating," Johnson said.
When Iowa State meets Colorado today (5 p.m., ESPN Classic) in the Coors Events Center, Johnson still won't be playing at 100 percent. And he won't get there this season, either.
"I hope that he can end the season feeling good about the way he's playing the game," McDermott said.
Things got off to an ominous start when Johnson took an elbow above the right eye in preseason practice. Nine stitches were required to close the cut. Then came a bone bruise on his left foot that kept him out of the first four games and left him a shadow of his old self when he returned. Johnson later missed another game when he reinjured the foot and had a bout with the flu last week.
"It's been one thing after another," McDermott said. "Hopefully it's a fluke, and it's not going to happen again."
McDermott labeled Johnson the face of the program after he averaged 12.3 points and 7.9 rebounds as a freshman. He was the Big 12 Conference's third-leading rebounder.
Johnson is averaging 12.9 points this season but just 3.6 rebounds for a team that is 11th in the Big 12 at 4-9 and 14-14 overall.
Only Colorado (10-17, 2-11) is looking up at Iowa State in the standings.
One reason for the dip in Johnson's rebounding production is his switch this season from forward to shooting guard, which has taken him farther from the basket.
The foot injury has robbed Johnson of his explosiveness.
"I'm not able to plant and explode like I used to," Johnson said. "It's not me when I'm out there playing."
McDermott said Johnson's limitations are obvious when compared to a year ago.
"It shows on the arc of his jump shot," McDermott said. "He's not elevating as much. It certainly shows when he gets to the paint and tries to finish. Last year, he was able to attack the rim. But I think it's most evident on the backboards. Last year, he was getting a lot of rebounds above the crowd. He's not getting those in traffic now."
McDermott has challenged Johnson's toughness, trying to get him to fight through mental as well as physical obstacles.
"Because of this experience he's going to be able to do a better job with it in the future," McDermott said. "That's the way it is with anything in life. When you get thrown a curve, you have to figure it out and better prepare yourself for how you're going to handle it the next time."
Johnson had never missed games because of injury until this season.
"I've had a lot of time to think about how to tolerate my own pain, and knowing what I can and can't do," Johnson said.