Menís U16 Hopeful: Dakari Johnson Q&A
Colorado Springs, Colo. ē June 10, 2011
Dakari Johnson just completed his freshman season of high school basketball, but this week, heís the biggest man on the court. Standing at 6-10 and weighing 250 pounds, the inside man from Brooklyn, N.Y. is hoping to be one of the 12 selected members for the 2011 USA Menís Developmental National Team. Johnson was named ESPN Riseís National Freshman of the Year in 2011, in addition to other accolades, including MaxPreps.com Freshman All-America second team and underclassman all-state first team. During his first season at St. Patrick High School (N.J.), Johnson helped his team to a 26-1 record and a No. 2 ranking in USA Todayís national poll. He averaged 7.0 ppg., 9.0 rpg. and 3.0 bpg., in addition to earning six starts. Johnson has also played eight seasons with the New York Gauchos, which finished second in the nation in the 2010 Showcase 15U Gold Division, and was raised in a family full of strong athletes. After competing in a USA Basketball mini-camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., in October, Johnson returned to the USOTC this week as a member of the 2011-12 USA Basketball Menís Developmental National Team.
When you think back to the training camp last October, what comes to mind?Just everybody being here and everybody being one family and working hard.
Did you keep in contact with your USA teammates over the past season?After our camp we added each other on Twitter and Facebook, and we kept in contact. I made really good friends out here. We are all intense about basketball, and we all know the game. We get each other because our lives are very similar in a lot of ways.
Did camp help prepare you for your high school season?
Yeah, I think camp really helped me because we did two-a-days, and we just really worked hard. Doing two-a-days really helps your stamina, especially being out here in Colorado where the air is thin. That helps your conditioning, and I think that did help start me off on my high school season.
Can you talk about your freshman season at St. Patrick?
We had a very good season. Too bad we lost our last game. We lost in the state finals against St. Anthonyís, who won the national championship. We just had an off day, but still it was a very good season. We accomplished a lot.
How did you improve during your freshman season?
I think my versatility, just trying to do everything I can on the court Ė rebounding and learning from the seniors. This year I played a role, and they guided me. Like Michael Gilchrist, he guided me throughout the season. I learned a lot from him.
What did it mean to you when you were named as the 2011 ESPN Rise National Freshman of the Year?
My mom woke me up early in the morning to tell me. I was very excited, but I still have a long way to go. Itís something I can carry with me and use to help motivate me to get better.
Can you talk about playing varsity as an 8th grader?
I played varsity in Kentucky. I went to Sayer Middle School, and in Kentucky, youíre allowed to play high school sports. So, I played my 8th grade season, and I averaged 14.0 points and 10.0 rebounds at Sayer High School. My best friend was a sophomore, so he helped me a lot. It was pretty cool. I just tried to help my team in winning as much as possible.
So your family moved to New York in 2010?
Yeah, my mom and my little brother and I, we actually moved to New Jersey, but my grandmother lives in New York, so we sometimes stay with her.
Your mom, your dad, your grandfather and your uncle all played college basketball. What was it like to grow up in such an athletic family?
Iím very close to my uncle. Heís washed up anyways (laughing). We always play each other. Heíll always talk smack. He was a very good player. My mom claims that she played basketball, but I donít believe her. She thinks sheís good, but I think she was more of a bench player. Even though she was tall, I say she wasnít that good. We have a lot of competition throughout the family. My godfather has access to a gym, so we can go play there whenever. We go at each other a lot.
What do you think are your strengths?
I think Iím good at running the floor. My jump shot has improved out to 15 feet. Iím an all-around player; Iím defensive-minded as well as offensive-minded.
How did you prepare for training camp?
I was working out with my trainer four times a week. Other than that, I just went to the YMCA and played pick-up games. I lifted weights also. I feel that Iím prepared.
What is your focus over the next few days as you try to make the 12-member 2011 USA U16 National Team?
Just to do anything I have to get on that team Ė knowing my role and playing as a team player.
Now that you have two practices under your belt, what is your initial reaction?
I feel comfortable. The first practice was pretty hard because Iím not used to the thin air out here, but I really got comfortable with the team and Iím starting to get used to things.
What, if anything, has surprised you about the training camp so far?
Not much, but I didnít know that we would do so many drills and go so hard. Iím very tired, but itís getting me in great condition.
How have you made yourself stand out during the first two sessions?
I think Iíve just been attacking the offensive glass and rebounding a lot. Iíve just been shooting off the pick-and-rolls and am doing everything I can for my team.
What do you plan on to focus on or try to improve for the remainder of the weekend?
I just need to keep doing what Iíve been doing and going hard.
What has been the best part of the experience so far?
Just being here with the team because itís more like family out here. Iím really not homesick yet; Iím just comfortable with my team. Everybodyís on my level, so itís great.