January 9, 2013

COLLEGE CONNECTIONS: Johnson improving every game

By Bill Stewart bstewart@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON -- There are no secrets when it comes to what the University of Maine at Farmington men's basketball team wants to do offensively each and every game.

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STEPPING UP: Maranacook graduate Ben Johnson is averaging 21.1 points and 9.5 rebounds a game this season for the University of Maine at Farmington men’s basketball team.

Creative Images Photography

"Ben Johnson will touch the ball one out of every two trips down the floor," UMF coach Dick Meader said. "Most everything we do goes through him. Most of our sets involve getting him the ball. There is no secret what we're trying to do."

The set strategy makes game-planning easy for the opposition.

Stop Johnson, and you will stop the Beavers.

Of course, that is no small task.

Johnson, a junior center from Manchester, is off to yet another dominant season.

He's averaging 21.1 points a game, which is tops in the North Atlantic Conference and 28th in all of Division III. His 9.3 rebounds a game are a team-high as well.

The 6-foot-8, 235-pound former Maranacook standout is a big reason why the Beavers (8-3, 4-2 in NAC) are among the favorites to win the league this winter.

"Pressure," Johnson says when asked what it's like to be the focal point of the offense. "There is a lot of pressure. If I can get good looks, it's good for the team. I just want to do what I can to help this team win."

Johnson, the reigning NAC defensive player of the year, averaged 16.1 points a game last season as a sophomore. He finished with 12 double-doubles that earned him first team all-NAC honors.

The breakout season elevated expectations.

"Our expectations for him are sizable," Meader said. "We expected big things from him. He creates a lot of problems for people. He's been dominant in most of the games. He had a great year last year and we were looking for him to improve."

Johnson said he worked hard in the offseason to improve some areas of his game. For starters, he worked on his post moves, particularly when going to his right. Johnson also wants to stay on the court longer and get to the line more often. He averaged 28 minutes a game last season.

"I want to play 35 minutes a game," he said. "I wanted to get in better shape but I also had to stay out of foul trouble. Taking two fouls in the first half takes away 10 minutes of playing. I also wanted to work on my post presence. I'm definitely left-hand dominant and I wanted to work on going to my right.

"I worked on my turnaround jump shot, too."

Johnson fine-tuned his game while playing in a local men's league during the summer.

"I put in a lot of work over the summer," he said. "The summer league was great because there's no pressure to make all your shots. It really helped my game."

The work is paying off now for the Beavers.

"He plays hard all the time," Meader said. "He's helped us get off to a fast start. We hope to be near the top of the conference, certainly in the top half."

Added Johnson, "I'm just trying to keep my mind on the 40 minutes of basketball during the games. We have a good team this year and we want to keep it going."

UMF next plays at Thomas at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Bill Stewart -- 621-5640

bstewart@centralmaine.com

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