Roy Ward talks to Damian Johnson from Mt. Gambier Pioneers and covers this week’s big plays as well as the media wrap-up.
Damian Johnson is leading the SEABL in blocks, in steals and his 218-centimetre wing span would rank pretty high compared to other players as well.
Johnson played a major role in Mt. Gambier Pioneers SEABL title last season and this year he has returned again putting up big defensive numbers and adding a few points when other Pioneers’ aren’t shooting well.
But many wouldn’t know the Pioneers star import was almost lost to the game in 2013.
At the time Johnson was playing for the Springfield Armour in the NBA D-League but turned down some lucrative playing contracts to remain close to home for the birth of his daughter.
Once she was born, Johnson wanted to stay with his wife and two children but teams both in the US and around the world are not always willing to bring whole families out with them.
So the former University of Minnesota star stepped away from basketball for a year, going from pro-basketballer to a merchandising accountant for a grain distribution company.
As the job title might suggest, his new career didn’t have the glamour of his first one.
“It was an eye-opener for me because my career was going pretty smooth up to that point and I wasn’t expecting to think about life after basketball,” Johnson said.
“My main job involved doing reconciliation, debt collection and number crunching – it was a long, difficult, boring job but I got used to it and enjoyed it more as I learned more about it.
“I also coached part time at some high schools and some of those kids have gone onto division one colleges.
“It turned out to be a great opportunity because I know when I do stop playing I can get adjusted and handle the real world.”
As well as his number crunching was going, Johnson had not given up on playing and the 28-year old soon became interested in an offer to join Mt Gambier, largely because he could bring out his family with him.
“Richard Hill called in late 2013 about playing in 2014,” Johnson said.
“Being able to bring my family was a major selling point.
“My wife and kids are here with me, my daughter is two and drives me nuts every single day but I’m cherishing the moment because there are not a lot of situations which allow your whole family to travel with you – I’m grateful for it.”
On court, Johnson, much like his teammates, is driven by the opportunity to win back-to-back championships and being on a team where he can focus on his defence and share the scoring load continues to excite him.
“All five starters can go for 20 on any night and guys like Matt Sutton on our bench can give us anywhere between 15-30 points too,” Johnson said.
“I don’t have to worry about numbers, I can focus more on defence – a lot of imports have to shoot a lot more than they would usually because their teams rely on them to do more.
“It’s rare you find a team where you know everyone is going to perform so I’m trying to make the most of it.”
The Pioneers look to be a force once again but Johnson tempered any talk of easy wins.
“I think our team is a little better than it was last year but a lot of other teams are a lot better,” Johnson said.
“The league is a lot more competitive – we did win 13 straight and it looks like we are dominating but there have been games where we have won by 18 but struggled to have a lead up until the early fourth quarter.
“We have a long way to go as far as repeating and if we run into a Dandenong or Nunawading or Geelong in the finals then no one can tell you who will win.”
With rural life in Mt Gambier meeting the Johnson family’s approval, the SEABL star would love a chance to add to his previous experiences playing in Japan’s top league by winning a contract in the NBL.
“My family were here last year and they are back again this year – they love it here and truth be told, I would be happy staying here for the rest of their lives,” Johnson said.
“My agent has talked to a couple of clubs to see what interest there is and we would love the opportunity to stay here and keep playing basketball and I would definitely love to play against the best Australian players in the NBL.”
*Canberra captain Ben Allen had a big night on the boards against Sandringham with 22 rebounds to go with his 16 points in the Gunners’ win.
*Gunners star Nnaebuka Anyaorah also filled out the stat-sheet with 24 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks.
*North-West Tasmania’s Garrett Jackson scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds in his club’s win over Bendigo although Tony Lewis for the Braves had a solid night with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
*Lewis backed up with 16 points and 17 rebounds in the Braves’ win over Geelong.
*Mt Gambier’s stars all shone in a big win over Brisbane Spartans with Brad Hill (23 points), Damian Johnson (21) and Erik Burdon (20) all scoring big while Tyrone Lee added 16 points and 15 rebounds.
*Spartans’ NBL star Tim Coenraad had another big scoring night with 30 points and 11 rebounds on 11-20 shooting against Mt Gambier.
*Dandenong star Daequon Montreal powered his side against North-West Tasmania with 33 points, five rebounds and five assists but the Thunder took the win behind 34 points from Fred Hunter and Nathan Wilson’s 20 points.
*Hobart’s Kevin White had 25 points in his club’s close loss to Nunawading.
SEABL media links
*Border Mail’s Steve Smith (@stevesmithffx) reports on Albury-Wodonga’ late loss to Nunawading. Report, pictures: http://www.bordermail.com.au/story/3204050/big-comeback-not-enough/?cs=10
*The Advocate’s Cameron Whiteley reports on North-West Tasmania’s battle with Bendigo. Report: http://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/3203915/north-west-thunder-rolls-over-bendigo/?cs=88
*Whiteley also reports on the Australian Junior Championships which were in Tasmania last week. Report, pictures: http://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/3203916/vic-teams-settle-for-bronze-medal-match/?cs=88
*Ballarat Courier’s Melanie Whelan (@Melanie_Whelan) reports on the Miners’ mid week game against Geelong. Report, pictures: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/3198552/miners-run-into-supercat-sized-trouble/?cs=63
*Whelan also reports Miners’ guard Everard Bartlett has made New Zealand’s 14-man squad ahead of the Rio Olympic qualifiers against Australia next month. Report, picture: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/3205260/kiwi-tall-call/?cs=63
*Bendigo Advertiser’s Nathan Dole reports on the Braves’ weekend. Report, pictures: http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/story/3205065/braves-stun-supercats/?cs=81
*Geelong Advertiser’s Wes Cusworth (@WesCusworth) reports on the Supercats’ tough weekend. Story, pictures: http://www.geelongadvertiser.com.au/sport/local-sport/seabl-geelong-supercats-brave-but-bendigo-braves-super/story-fnjuhs0b-1227439087052
*Cusworth also reports on the Supercats’ mid-week game against Ballarat. Report: http://www.geelongadvertiser.com.au/sport/local-sport/geelong-supercats-nathan-herbert-inspires-win-against-ballarat-miners/story-fnjuhs0b-1227434623786
*Canberra Times’ Jon Tuxworth (@Tuxy81) reports on the Gunners good win. Report: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/sport/act-sport/canberra-seabl-sides-register-wins-over-sandringham-20150711-gia2hp.html
*Pioneers website’s Tom Telfer reports on the Pioneers win over Brisbane. Report: http://pioneersbasketball.com.au/fixture/seabl-round-13/
*Leader newspapers Simon McEvoy reports on Luol Deng’s visit to Frankston. Story, pictures: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/south-east/sudanese-nba-star-luol-deng-visits-frankston-for-basketball-tournament/story-fngnvoeu-1227435636094
*The Age also reports on Luol Deng’s visit to Frankston as well. Story: http://www.theage.com.au/sport/basketball/nba-star-luol-deng-in-melbourne-for-south-sudanese-basketball-tournament-20150709-gi8urg.html
*The Age reports on Frankston Blues product Ryan Broekhoff’s attempt at making the NBA. Story: http://www.theage.com.au/sport/basketball/australian-forward-ryan-broekhoff-rolls-dice-on-nba-summer-league-with-denver-nuggets-20150710-gi9p6r.html
Roy Ward (@rpjward) is a freelance sports writer who has covered the NBA, NBL, WNBL, SEABL and Big V during his career. He will be filing weekly columns on the SEABL men’s and women’s competitions during this season. For feedback or suggestions send Roy a tweet or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org