Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Lobo hoops: Bigger, stronger Johnson vows to be more assertive

UNM junior Javonté Johnson looks to pass the ball during the Lobos men’s basketball team practice the Pit on Tuesday. (Chancey Bush/)

Javonte Johnson has quietly become a Lobo fan favorite in his three season in the program.

But he, his team, have had enough of that “quietly” part.

The 6-foot-6 small forward — one who was forced by roster necessities a season ago to play out of position and down on the block far more than he was used to — could fill a stat sheet one game like Jan. 8 vs. Utah State when he had 23 points, hit seven 3-pointers and grabbed six rebounds. And yet a week later, not attempt a single shot in 28 minutes on the floor against Boise State.

He’s ready to change all that.

“It’s really just my confidence level out there,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I had a lot of games last year where if I wasn’t shooting, or hitting shots, I was invisible a little bit. Now I feel like I’m able to impact in multiple ways — just become more multi-dimensional.”

The confidence issue had as much to do last year with him trying to find his place on a roster with two high-scoring, ball-dominant guards as it did with the reality he was forced into playing a position down on the block he wasn’t t used to.

For their part, both House and Mashburn have told the Journal that Johnson is poised for a breakout season, and it’s on them to make sure it happens.

“We’ve got to find him,” House said Tuesday.

But Johnson, and his coach, Richard Pitino, acknowledge that finding Johnson is only part of the issue. Johnson, at times, has to force the issue himself.

“He’s had a really consistent offseason, but there are times for sure where we deal with that,” Pitino said. “Like, ‘Javonte, you can’t go a whole practice without (asserting yourself). You are a really good shooter. You’re really talented.’ … If you’re going to be playing major minutes, you got to go make an impact. You can’t disappear.”

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Johnson, without question, has been the player raved about by teammates and Pitino more than any in terms offseason improvement. After finishing the 2021-22 season at 200 pounds, he now weighs 215 — an increase he and his strength coach say is all muscle.

“I can use my weight more,” Johnson said of his bigger, stronger physique. “I can get to the rim more. I can get to the free throw line more. I didn’t really get to the free throw line last year.”

Johnson’s 28.6 minutes per game last season were third most on the team, but he drew just 2.3 fouls per 40 minutes (1.6 per 40 in Mountain West play) and attempted just 49 free throws.

While his 3-point shooting is still a primary weapon, he knows that won’t be all he brings to the table.

“I know they’ll be looking for me more this year,” Johnson said. “And I’m ready for it.”

TRAINED EYE: Sitting courtside at Tuesday’s Lobo hoops practice was Albuquerque Academy graduate and former head coach of the Charlotte Hornets, James Borrego.

Fired last season after five seasons as an NBA head coach, Borrego and his family are back in Albuquerque this year, all while still being paid by his former NBA team. He’s taken the opportunity to catch practices — at UNM and elsewhere — when he can, still very much in tune with the game.

Tuesday, he and Pitino talked frequently during the practice, sometimes about players and plays.

IN A BOOT: Sebastian Forsling, the 7-foot sophomoer from Sweden, can’t seem to catch a break.

After hurting his wrist over the summer playing for his home country’s junior national team, he has been held out of many practices back in Albuquerque this preseason with an illness, a concussion and was at Tuesday’s practice in a walking boot after spraining his ankle.

“It’s weird for me,” Forsling said. “All the other years I’ve been playing, I’ve never really been injured, and I’m usually a person who never gets sick. Yeah, so it’s been weird. I get back (from Sweden) and I’m stronger, feel like I got better. And I come back and it just feels like it’s a constant loop. I don’t want to get stuck in it.”

Both Forsling and Pitino say he shouldn’t miss much time due to the latest injury.

Saturday

Exhibition basketball: West Texas A&M at UNM women, 3:30 pm; CSU Pueblo at UNM men, 770 AM/96.3 FM for men

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