Lakers Q&A: Trey Johnson expresses confidence he can make an NBA team
This is the seventh post in an occasional series of Q&As with a member of the Lakers organization.
Below is a recent conversation with Lakers backup guard Trey Johnson, whom the Lakers recalled April 13 from the Bakersfield Jam. He is on the team's playoff roster, and he scored six points on two-for-three shooting in 13 minutes in the Lakers' season-finale against Sacramento and then had three points on one-for-two shooting in the Lakers' 109-100 Game 1 loss to the New Orleans Hornets.
How has everything gone for you since joining the Lakers?
It's been great. It's everything that you dreamed and worked for. You realize the dream and I'm doing that right now. I've been in the NBA before and with the Lakers in camp before, so I knew what to expect in the sense of this is a very storied organization and top-of-the-line organization. Guys like Kobe, D-Fish, Lamar and Phil Jackson, I know there's a lot that they expect and they're going to hold you accountable for every action on and off the floor.
I already know how to come into this situation and handle myself and be a professional and come in and learn and help the team in whatever I can. It's definitely a winning culture. When I say winning, it's every aspect in the word, from the front office guys, scouts, coaching staff and players. Everything has high expectations and it's expected to happen through the hard work that's put in with building this organization from the ground up. Even when Magic was brought in, they brought in the right type of guys. These guys are winners. They have the will and desire to win.
April 13 is when you got the call. What do you remember about that day? I remember getting ready for a D-League playoff game and I was ready to take a nap. My phone rang and it was my agent. He gave me the news. I was thankful God put me in this situation, and I called my parents and I was on the next flight out of there. I was definitely missed. I felt like I was a leader of that team and people looked at me as a leader and a captain. So I think they definitely missed my leadership on the floor. But those guys wished me well and nobody had any hard feelings about it. Now I'm in the playoff series.
Kobe was complimentary about how you've been doing, with fitting in and being aggressive. How have you tried to fit in? Truth be told, I haven't shared this before with Kobe, but growing up I studied Kobe. In college, I was the so-called Kobe Bryant on my team. On the D-League team, I was the so-called Kobe Bryant of my team. I studied him from his footwork to his moves and I know what spot he likes to get to on the floor. I model my game after him. I don't shoot a lot of threes, but I can shoot threes, which is the same thing as him. He feels like he can get to whatever spot on the floor he needs to on the floor and he takes the game very seriously. This is what he does. He plays basketball and he studies every aspect of the game. He's a very intelligent basketball player and a very intelligent person. I always took that from the outside looking in in watching him, and then to be around him and see the more detailed part of his game on what he works on, I've always patterned my game after him.
Who else do you pattern your game after? Growing up, I was a Bulls fan and I liked Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen was my favorite player because he could do everything. From the time I started playing basketball on a competitive level seriously, by that time, Michael Jordan wasn't really playing anymore. It was Kobe Bryant. He's the best so I didn't look to pattern my game after anybody else. He's the best so why not the rest for the bench. I always watch a guy like Chauncey Billups too. I was the same type of build. I watch whoever has a high IQ of the game.
And Kobe has given you his shoes? I just happened to wear the golden size, size 14. I get an unlimited pair of those.
Any other perks you've been getting? I'm wearing the Los Angeles Lakers uniform across my chest. That's recognized worldwide. I walk out and people know who I am. Coming from a town in Jackson [Mississippi], our whole community is excited for me. I'm one of those guys who grew up from there and they see me all the time. To see me in this situation with people they see on TV all the time, it's amazing.
How did Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks do in Bakersfield this year? It was more difficult for Derrick because we run an up-and-down style. He enjoyed it, though. For Devin, it was good for him. We ran up and down, he scored, rebounded, filled the passing lanes. The way we played, it was perfect for him. He could run the break and we'd throw it up for him.
So what was Derrick upset about [at a recent practice] about you playing him one-on-one?
He called me out and I had to take care of him. He wanted to play me and I was just shooting. He said, 'Let's play one-on-one.' We played two games to five. I beat them 5-2 both times. He's a big guy and I'm a guard. I'm supposed to beat him. I have to beat him.
As you've progressed in the D-League, your efficiency has increased. What's gone into that?
Paying more attention to detail. I go back and watch a lot of film and watch plays and shots I've taken, which ones are the easiest. It's the small things, like I faded too much on this shot. It's just I'm focusing in more on every little detail. Am I straight up on this shot? Am I leaning a little bit? After you play, it's kind of a feel. I start feeling things out a little bit more. I start feeling things out so I know if I miss these two shots, I know exactly why I missed it and I know exactly what I need to do the next time to make it. I just focus more on the small amount of the details.
I've definitely focused more on my defense this year. I've always been able to score. People have always questioned if I can play defense. It never was a factor on whether I could play defense. I had always been in situations where I carry a heavy offensive load so I wasn't always called upon to be that defensive stopper until it came down to a certain situation. I tried to pick that up even more so from the beginning until the end, putting together a whole defensive game, putting pressure on my guy, fighting over screens and taking charges.
You said you've always felt that you've been viewed as an undersized guard. Has that reputation faded for you or do you think it still exists? It probably exists in some people's eyes, but I definitely feel like that's a wrong perception of me. I came from a small school, and they looked at it like I was a mid-major gunner. I shot a lot of shots and that was it. But anyone who has been around me and knows me knows the type of basketball player I am. I think perception is reality in a lot of cases. That was the perception of a lot of people's view of me off of seeing me play one time in college or seeing me twice instead of being around me and understanding what type of person I am and what kind of work I put into this game and the sacrifices I've made. Not to say that anyone else doesn't, but I have the resume to prove on every level I've been on that I've been successful. If I'm all these things that I say I am or that I aren't, how have I been successful at each and every level? It's a situation that they just need to get to know who I am.
Do you believe improving your efficiency has helped offset that reputation? (Synergy Sports Technology tracked that Johnson shot 50% this season with Bakersfield on shots between 17 feet and three-point range.) Definitely, the more I understand and realize the professional aspect of it. I didn't come into the season saying I was going to lead the league in scoring. I approached it like I wanted to be the best player I could be and I understood that in a sense, you will be judged by what they see. A lot of times, they got their own season going on so you're going to be judged by these numbers. When they see these numbers, I want the numbers to stand out at them and make them want to come see me and figure out how I'm shooting 50% and averaging 25 points. I know it works hand in hand so I needed to focus on that.
It goes back to what I said about studying tape and watching Kobe. It's all about getting spots out on the floor and figuring out what is a good shot for me. I know that since I've been playing basketball, a mid-range jumper is my bread and butter. It was just about spots on the floor. I know what's comfortable for me and I know how to hit that. I'm confident I can get any kind of shot I want when I want to get that shot. It comes from knowing the offense and know what I should get out of this set and what I can get out of this. It's being a student in the game.
You had said God will put you in a position that will put you in a place to give yourself a chance to show what you can do, even if it's on a roster where you're not playing much. What are you trying to prove that you can do? I'm a faithful guy to God. I believe that everybody goes through situations for a reason. Looking back now, two years ago and I was put in this situation, I wouldn't be ready to handle this situation. But going through the things that he helped me through, I was able to come into this situation right here and step right in and not miss a beat and be extremely confident in what I can do and be myself and go out there and help the team anyway I can. I'm just blessed and thankful for it.
I was told, and I don't know if you're aware of this, but the Jam is in the process of getting your Lakers jersey, framing it and putting it in [Rabobank Arena]. What's your reaction to that? I didn't know that. That's an honor. Anytime someone thinks highly of you to put you in a situation of history, it's great. The owners have been great to me and spent some point in my career for the past four years in Bakersfield. They've been tremendous in building that organization and treating guys like professionals. They've done everything they can to help me get to this point so I appreciate that.
Brandon Wallace and Stephen Dennis went to Game 1. What did they say to you after seeing you play as a Laker? They're definitely excited for me. With Brandon having played in the NBA before, he knows what it is and what its all about. Stephen, a young guy, is looking at it and it's hope for him as well, knowing that we spent a lot of time together and working out and learning the game and picking each other's brains, and stuff like this so it reinforces to him that he's on the right path.
How would you compare your stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers (two 10-day contracts in 2009) to the Toronto Raptors (two 10-day contracts in 2011)? Cleveland was another situation where I was playing with a high profile player [in LeBron James] and being with the show everywhere we went. It was a steppingstone to me learning what it takes truly to be a professional. Looking back on it, I wasn't ready to step in and play. Coming from where I come from, I learned a lot of stuff late. I came in from a small school and a small Division I school. I didn't grow up as a basketball player. I grew up as a baseball player. There were a lot of things I was learning later on. The Toronto situation, I knew I was ready to step in and produce. It just didn't work out in the sense of long term. That's the difference between 2009 and 2011. In 2009, I thought I was ready. In 2011, I knew I was ready.
You have also played in Serbia (2007-08 for KK Hemofarm) France (2009-2010 for BCM Gravelines) and Italy (Pallacanestro Biella in 2010). Are you still keeping your options for that or are you just holding out on the NBA for now? I hope this is the beginning of a steady NBA career, hopefully a long NBA career. This is a platform. The Lakers have solidified me in saying I'm an NBA player. If I'm good enough to play with the best team in the NBA, I feel like the rest of the teams will recognize that and say he's got to be doing something right. Hopefully it's the beginning of a long NBA career.
My whole reason of going back to the D-League was to go to the NBA. I'll always keep my options open and not close any doors. But this is my goal, my dream and where I want to be. God forbid, something doesn't work out, then of course. I'm not against playing international. This is a business as well so you have to provide for your family.
For the Lakers to be willing to give you some minutes in a playoff game surely is a good sign. But has Phil or anyone on the coaching staff given you feedback on your game? Not really. But with Phil, it's understanding the game. He's a very a high basketball mind and is very particular about the fundamentals of the game and I think that's my game. I'm a student of the game and I think that's what he appreciates about me more than anything because I understand the game and the triangle isn't a foreign language. It's not something that takes me forever to pick up.
I learned it from watching. Before I came to camp here when the Lakers used to have their D-League team, the D-League team ran the triangle. I learned it from scouting against it when we played their D-League team. When I was in Cleveland, we played against the Lakers. From the outside looking in, that's how I learned it. When I came to camp, it was getting all that particulars and reminded myself that I remembered that. The triangle is just basketball. People think it's so foreign, but it's just basketball. All it is, once you understand the foundation of it, it's like clockwork.
Going back to how you used to play baseball, you were drafted in 2002 by the Kansas City Royals. How did you ultimately decide to play basketball. I used to play baseball and that's all I knew. I was a sports fan and I played every sport. But baseball was my favorite sport. My dad spent seven years in the minor leagues and played for the Red Sox. I was an outstanding baseball player growing up. but it was such a job to me at an early age that by the time it was my 11th grade year, I was burnt out on it. It was fun to me, but at the same time it seemed like it was so much work for me. When I was young, I felt like it was a job. Going into my 11th grade year, I was burnt out and wanted to do something different. I had always played basketball, but I hadn't played on the AAU level or anything like that. I decided I was going to continue playing baseball, but I won't take it so serious anymore.
I played basketball and started developing a love for it like I had for baseball. By the time I was drafted, my mind was made up I wanted to play basketball. It would've been different if I was drafted in the top five rounds. I was a 30th round pick. It wasn't that much money. The Royals had my rights all the way up until the next year of the draft. I went to JUCO [at Alcorn State] for that reason and played basketball. By the time baseball season came around, I played my freshman year and my love for the game wasn't there anymore. My mind was completely focused on basketball.
And you got hurt? My sophomore year, I went to Alcorn State on a basketball scholarship, but I went out and played baseball. After basketball season, the first game I played in baseball, I tore a ligament in my elbow. That was the end of it.
So when did you become serious about basketball? My junior year, I got serious and tried out for the team and ended up making the team. The rest of it was history.
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Photo: Kings guard Beno Udrih dives on a loose ball in front of Lakers guard Trey Johnson in the fourth quarter Wednesday night in Sacramento. Credit: Cary Edmondson / US Presswire / April 13, 2011