Stepping up

Johnson leads Lafayette
By: Matt Long
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In athletics, aggressiveness is almost always a good thing. For Tony Johnson, a 2009 Folsom High graduate who starred for the Bulldogs on the basketball court, it wasn’t until he learned to be more aggressive on the court that he began to excel as a point guard for Lafayette College, located in Easton, Pennsylvania. Not surprisingly, when Johnson began to be more aggressive, his team became better and started winning more often than they were losing. The Lafayette Leopards came within a game from qualifying for the NCAA tournament, losing the Patriot League Championship game to Bucknell on Friday, 72-57. As a freshman Johnson got plenty of playing time, seeing the court about 17 minutes a game, while playing behind senior point guard and team leader Mike Gruner. It was a time of learning for Johnson, beginning his collegiate career after helping Folsom High to a 55-10 record and two section titles in his final two years in high school. “It was a pretty big transition, but after playing against so many good players like Marcus Jackson (Sheldon) and Xavier Thames (Pleasant Grove) and even Kori (Babineaux) in practice, that gave me the confidence that I can play at this level. “Last year as a freshman, I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers or step on anyone’s toes so I wasn’t very aggressive. I was playing behind Mike Gruner, who was our senior point guard and leader and he taught me what it takes to win. He had great work ethic and I just want to keep the tradition going.” This year didn’t start off that well for Johnson or the team. The Leopards lost five of their first six games and Johnson was not at 100 percent with shin splints and an ankle injury. After sitting out a game, Johnson had a talk with Lafayette’s head coach, Fran O’Hanlon. “I just told Tony that he needed to be more aggressive on both ends of the court because when he is that makes the team so much better,” O’Hanlon said. Johnson added, “Coach “O” told me that I needed to take more shots and be more involved and that was neat to hear that from him. I knew that he had confidence in me. It took a couple of games, but the more aggressive I was the better the team played. During practice I will be aggressive 29 times out of 30 and that one time I’m not coach would get on me. I like that because he doesn’t let me slip up and I know he wants me to be my best and, of course, it helps the team out too.” Johnson is having a spectacular sophomore season. As the team’s starting point guard, Johnson is playing 30 minutes a game and leads the team in assists and steals, while averaging eight points per game. Beyond that he’s shooting 52 percent from the floor (34 percent from 3-point range) and incredibly is the team’s second-leading rebounding averaging four boards per game. “Tony is our leader on the floor; without him we have no other point guard,” O’Hanlon said. “He’s done a great job. Jared Mintz is our leading scorer, but without Tony we’re not even close to where we are. His assist-to-turnover ratio is great; he’s scoring the ball, averaging 12 to 13 points over the last seven or eight games and has really stepped it up. He’s our best rebounder and certainly our best perimeter defender.” Johnson’s strong play has led Lafayette to playing its basketball of the season. Prior to the loss to Bucknell that finished their season, the Leopards upset both Holy Cross, 77-70 and American, 73-71 (double OT) on the road. “Those wins were big,” Johnson said. “We had lost 11-of-12 against Holy Cross and that was the first time in six years that we beat American. We’re playing well at the right time of the season.”