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November 1, 2007

New point man

When their run in the NCAA tournament came to an end six months ago, the University of Southern California Men's Basketball team looked to be in the steady hands of a senior leader. But Gabe Pruitt's unexpected departure to the NBA left USC without a reliable point guard.

However, with the arrival of freshman Angelo Johnson, 5-foot-10 and 180-pounds from nearby Simi Valley, USC may have found the true point guard that Pruitt never was, and they lost with the tragic death of Ryan Francis.

Johnson certainly doesn't lack confidence; and he says that while the pressure to follow in their footsteps and get acclimated to the next level of basketball may be tough, it's something he can handle.

"It's going to be hard, but I'll be good," He said outside of the Galen Center. "It's a big change. The game's faster, stronger, more intense and more important.

"I'm dealing with it alright, at first I was a little nervous but I've gotten more comfortable with Coach Floyd and his plays and the speed (of the game)."

Getting comfortable for Johnson required him to study a playbook thicker than any he'd ever seen and play a style of defense he'd never played in high school.

"I would have to say offense has been harder (to adjust to) because there are a lot more plays than in high school," Johnson said. "But defense is hard too because it's more of a help defense, so you have to really keep your head up to help your teammates."

Helping on defense isn't easy, especially when you're a 5-foot-10, 180-pound freshman. But Johnson said he's been preparing his body for this opportunity.

"I've been lifting at least twice a week to get ready, and I'm a lot stronger because of it," he said. "I think my body is ready for it.

"It's been easier to take charges from bigger guys, and I can do it without getting hurt."

Johnson's physicality will be tested almost immediately as he, along with his fellow Trojans, will be baptized in fire by one of the nation's most difficult early schedules.

"I'm so excited to play Kansas and those big-time schools," Johnson, also referring to Oklahoma and Memphis, said. "I've always dreamed about playing Division-I basketball.

"It's a great opportunity."

A couple big wins and Johnson believes that they can take some of the attention and pressure away from the mercurial football team.

"It's a football school," he said. "But I think we're going to get everyone on campus excited about the basketball team.

"I'm so happy to be here, and I'm ready for the season to start and get on the road to winning a national championship."

Clearly, Johnson has high expectations for the season, but he did admit that winning the Pac-10 would be satisfying and beating (hopefully) Mercer on November 10th couldn't come soon enough.

As for his life off the court, Johnson said he's dealing with the same struggles as on it.

"I thought (the life of a Division-I athlete) would be slower," he said. "School is going great, but it's really fast.

"I gotta say, though, I'm loving Geography right now."

With any luck, Johnson will "love" Pac-10 play as much as Geography in a few months.


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