Behind Enemy Lines: Robert Johnson

Friday, December 1, 2017 - 2:58pm

With roster overhaul and a new coach, the Indiana men’s basketball team came into the season with perhaps its lowest expectations in over a decade. A season-opening 90-69 loss to Indiana State — and then another to No. 22 Seton Hall five days later — did nothing to ease the qualms about the expected turbulence in coach Archie Miller’s first season.

Taking over for the fired Tom Crean, Miller inherits a roster that lost three of its four leading scorers to the NBA. The lone returner among that group? Senior Robert Johnson. Johnson — currently the team’s leading scorer at 14.1 points per game — seeks to lead an unproven group as it heads into Big Ten play.

The Hoosiers (4-3) come into Ann Arbor off a feisty, but ultimately unfruitful, performance against No. 1 Duke on Wednesday night, in a 91-81 loss. The Daily sat down with Johnson at Big Ten Media Day in October to discuss the transition to the new coaching staff, his outlook on the season ahead and more:

TMD: What is the first thing you noticed when Archie (Miller) came in — maybe the biggest change from a year ago?

RJ: The first thing I noticed was his demeanor. I think he carries himself, and communicates to us in a way that he takes pride in everything that we do. And that’s something he (has) relayed to us and tried to instill in us, and I think we’ve done a good job of following that. 

TMD: You guys lost three of your top four scorers from a year ago, who have you noticed, maybe in practice, that has stepped up to help fill that void?

RJ: I think a couple different guys have stepped up. I think that a lot of different players are going to have bigger roles this year — guys like Juwan Morgan, we need him to be big for us game in and game out. I think guys like Devonte Green and Freddie McSwain have really made big strides and big steps early on in the season as far as practice goes. Hopefully they can continue to keep it up.

TMD: Archie (Miller) talked about the seniors and staying true to Indiana University, not just the basketball program or the coach. What made you want to stay with Indiana?

RJ: I think ultimately what helped me, is when Archie first came in he sat down and talked about things — his vision for the team and his vision for where he saw me within the plans. You know, it just all made sense, and it was something I wanted to be apart of.

TMD: You’re a senior now, how have you embraced that leadership role, especially with a new coach, with a team that might be more familiar with you than with him?

RJ: Right now, I’m just trying to consistently be at a certain level, of my play, my leadership. Making other guys better on and off the court. And that’s something that I take pride in.

TMD: You guys are a little more under the radar than you have been in years past. Do you use that for motivation when you see predictions about the year, rankings, or stuff like that?

RJ: I try not to focus on rankings and all of the preseason this and that. It’s all noise to me. I try not to focus on, I just try to focus on (that), I just try to focus on trying to help the team get better and personally getting better everyday.

TMD: What do you think would constitute a successful season for you, personally, and for Indiana basketball?

RJ: I think getting the most out of the potential we have as a team, and personally the potential that I have as a player. The only way we can do that is to go out, every night, and give a consistent effort and leave it out on the floor.