THE POINT OF PRACTICE
Constant practice is a must for Johnson. "Some teams use plays that are almost similar to football plays," he says. "Our offense is different. It's almost to the other extreme. We have no set plays but a pattern. You have to play with the fellows a lot though, sense what they're going to do, when they will break. That's why we practice a lot. It's one of those things you have to put your time in on. You can't use a blackboard. It's not theory. It's practicality."
Johnson is given to looking upon basketball as a challenge to him. "Self-pride is a lot of it," he says, and for that reason he prefers to play man-to-man defense instead of the zone. "Man-to-man is more of a personal challenge," he says. "If this guy scores a basket, it's my responsibility. It's my job to stop him. It's more clear-cut than the zone. You know what your duty is."
But whether this, or basketball in general, builds character is questionable as far as Johnson is concerned. "You can build character digging ditches," he says. "I suppose you can learn a lot from basketball, but I can't say it's much better than something else. I have a dim view of a lot of these things like 'character building.' First, you're out to win, and secondly, to have some fun. To me, it's a real good feeling to have everything clicking together. If this is character building or teamwork, fine and good. But how much of this can be applied elsewhere, I don't know. These are things you can't measure."
This year Minnesota has its first road game December 8 at Iowa State. Johnson likes road trips, especially those down South. "It's warm down there," he says. Despite his fondness for travel, he finds playing away from home a disadvantage. "On the officiating, I think the home team has the advantage," he says. "It must be the crowd, but I don't think it's so much the crowd booing. But when the crowd sees a foul to its disadvantage and yells, the official, if he didn't see it, knows he might have missed a call, and he'll be looking for it the next time around. He'll be that much more apt to notice it.
"There's a lot that officials miss. It isn't humanly possible to see everything that's going on. Some officials notice certain types of fouls more than others. One will call traveling all night. Another is probably noticing a guy's arm to see if he's fouled shooting. It's a good trait in a team if it can adjust to the officiating and use it to their advantage. If a referee is not calling fouls under the basket, it's to a team's advantage to be more aggressive under the basket."
THE NOISY CROWDS
Johnson understands that Iowa has about the noisiest crowd in the Big Ten, but he hasn't played there yet. "Indiana and Michigan State are the two I've noticed the most," he says. "Kansas State was that way, and Kentucky was, too. I've heard say that on Indiana's home court, it's 20 points for Indiana, both teams even. The crowd is pretty rabid, and it seems that Indiana boys jump about four inches higher and shoot considerably better. Minnesota? Less than a lot of schools. Probably because our floor is away from the crowd, and there's almost a wall around the court. Indiana's floor is elevated very little, and the crowd comes in close. It's more enclosed, and the noise keeps coming back. Here the crowds are sort of drowned into the walls miles away.
"But the biggest difference is the floors. Some give a lot. They're springier. Wood that springs. The Minnesota floor is real spongy. Others are hard. The boards are laid right over cement. Kentucky and North Carolina play on hard floors. It gives you a faster game. You come down and you hit hard. There's no give. It's like running on cement instead of Jello. You hit bottom quicker, and your next step comes that fraction of a second quicker. On the hard floor the ball bounces higher. On our floor you might think that there was no air in the ball. The first thing we do on a strange floor is just dribble for five minutes to get the feel of the floor."
Johnson finds an "unconscious mental hazard" in some backboards. "Backboards vary some," he says, "but there's nothing definite you can do. Some have the brace under the basket, and it's a psychological disadvantage jumping. You're afraid you're going to hit your head on the brace. But this isn't a big factor. The biggest difference is the floor itself." If there is a difference between Big Ten play and that of the rest of the country, it is that the Big Ten play is rougher. "The game is more wide open in the South," he says. "There's not this conglomeration in the center that you get here. Here, it's much rougher under the boards. Much more contact. Something built up over the years I guess. Now in the Big Ten they look for ruggedness in a player as well as height and agility. I like to see a good, real rough ballplayer who goes up hard and comes down hard as long as there's none of this calculated stuff."