PITTSBURGH — As a freshman, Pitt’s Xavier Johnson started and played in all 33 of the Panthers games last year.
He didn’t just play, Johnson was essentially the leader of Pitt’s offense and defense. Every single game. But Johnson led by example, with how hard he went, every play.
In a conference like the ACC, that can be a daunting task for any caliber of a player, let alone a freshman point guard on a team with very few upperclassmen to help with the challenges that come with that.
Johnson averaged 31.5 minutes per game, while picking up the opposing point guard 94-feet just about each possession. On the offensive end, with an inconsistent jump shot (35.2 percent from three), Johnson relied on his driving ability and relentlessness to not be denied at the rim.
The 6-foot-3 Virginia native took a beating throughout the Panthers long and demanding schedule. But Johnson found a way to get things done, and was rewarded.
Johnson was named to the ACC All-Rookie team, while averaging 15.5 points and 4.5 assists per game.
This year, Johnson looks to improve his overall game, but more importantly, how to lead his team.
“Last year, he did not talk,” head coach Jeff Capel said. “He’s talking more (this year). He’s a lot more vocal now.”
A point guard in the ACC has a lot of demands, especially one of Johnson’s talents. Johnson essentially has to be a coach on the floor and make adjustments on the fly, while making his teammates better and making sure that they are doing the right things on the court.
“(Those traits) are vital,” Capel said. “If you look at all of the really good point guards, (being a leader) is the one thing that they have in common, and they talk.”
Johnson, now a sophomore, and with a year of college basketball under his belt, feels more comfortable in that leadership role.
“You’ve got to just talk to them,” Johnson said. “(A year ago), I didn’t really know how to talk to my teammates.”
For a point guard, you have to have a solid relationship with not only your teammates, but your coaches.
“He knows what we, as a coaching staff want,” Capel said. “He’s able to articulate that, at times (in practice). He’s a lot more vocal in the huddles (with his teammates).”
Capel and Johnson are both striving to provide a significant leap for Pitt basketball, in year two, of this revamped program. The evolution of Johnson’s play on the court and growth as a leader, will play a significant role this season.