Trent Johnson on Brook Lopez
Last season, Stanford Cardinal head coach Trent Johnson led his squad to a 28-8 record before losing in the Sweet 16 to a tough Texas Longhorns squad. After earning Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors, Johnson opted to take the head coaching vacancy at LSU.
Yet and still, it's hard to think of anyone that knows Brook Lopez (not to mention his twin brother Robin) better than Johnson. Accordingly, we called him at his Baton Rouge office to get his thoughts on his former players.
MT: Thanks a lot for taking our call, coach Johnson. Few people have seen more of Brook Lopez than you, and we're eager to pick your brain on the 7-footer that helped take you deep into the NCAAs.
Johnson: Well, I think there are a lot of people who have seen Brook play, and know the caliber of person and player he is, but I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach him for two years.
MT: On paper, he improved markedly in his two seasons for you. What are your general thoughts on Brook as a player and a person?
Johnson: He's a good person, and he works extremely hard. You need to look at his improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore year. He's a very special person and player, and I think his upside in terms of the NBA level is exceptional.
MT: By most accounts, Lopez is athletic, flush with offensive talent and possesses the ability to get up and down the floor. How does his skill set translate to the NBA game?
Johnson: I'm not an NBA coach, but when you look at 7-foot, 260 for a kid that's capable of shooting it from 20 feet, has an array of post moves, is real strong and real fluid, I think his skill set should really, really flourish at that level. We were forced to put him around the basket a lot, because, quite frankly, no one could stop him down there. He can turn left shoulder, and he can turn right shoulder. Offensively, he's a lot more gifted and skilled that what he's shown at the collegiate level.
MT: One weakness mentioned consistently is his shot selection and shooting percentage. Is part of the explanation there that he was always able to get whatever shot he wanted, and therefore didn't have to be selective as he will in the NBA?
Johnson: He's smart enough and he's skilled enough to improve, and he has a high basketball IQ. Let's not kid ourselves ... You're talking about a kid who went to Stanford University. Like I said, he has terrific upside.
MT: In your mind, how did he compare athletically to other bigs he faced in college.
Johnson: Well, he's good enough to get it done. My take is this: He's the No. 1 pick. Now if you ask someone else, John Calipari will probably say his guy is No. 1. But to me, Brook is No. 1.
MT: We wouldn't expect you to go any other way. However, where are a couple of areas you'd like to see Brook improve?
Johnson: For me, I've always been one of those guys who say you can improve every day in every aspect of your game to be the most complete player you can. So he needs to improve in various areas, but for him to be considered in the top five, top three in the NBA Draft puts him in a pretty good situation.
MT: How important could a guy like Lopez be to someone like Minnesota's Al Jefferson?
Johnson: I just think you look the success of teams that have been in the NBA, and the teams that have won consistently always have a post presence.
MT: Indeed. While we have you, can you give us a thought on USC's O.J. Mayo, whom you saw a few times last season?
Johnson: Really good. Really good. (Preparing to play him) was really tough. We tried to do everything we could to make him work hard, but he's special.
MT: What about UCLA's Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, against whom Brook and Robin Lopez had some really intriguing matchups.
Johnson: Both of those players are special as well. Kevin Love fouled Brook and Robin out the first game at our place, and there was a reason that he and Westbrook were in the Final Four. There were some very, very talented players in the Pac-10 this past year, and you just brought up some of them.
MT: Another guy people are talking about going very high in the draft is Jerryd Bayless from Arizona.
Johnson: Right, Bayless, and another guy by the name of Robin Lopez that isn't bad either. If I took Brook No. 1, I'd take Robin No. 2.
MT: Fair enough. Final thoughts on the Lopez twins?
Johnson: Brook and Robin are extremely hard workers, they are winners, are great people from a solid family and I think it'd be nice if Brook ended up in Minnesota because Mark Madsen and Kirk Snyder are there.
MT: Right ... Mad Dog of course played at Stanford, while you coached Snyder at the University of Nevada.
Johnson: Start Kirk at the three, Mark at the four and Brook at the five and you'll be OK. I know one thing ... I wouldn't be talking to you if it hadn't of been for those three guys, because good players make good coaches. Mark was at Stanford when we went to the Final Four, Kirk put us on his back when I was fortunate enough to get the head coaching job at Nevada and took us to the Sweet 16, and of course Brook put us on his back and took us to the Sweet 16 this past year. So that's not all bad.
MT: OK coach, thanks very much for your thoughts and good luck next season at L.S.U.
Johnson: Thank you.