Robert Johnson ready to embrace challenge that awaits in Bloomington

  • 03/26/2014 2:40 pm in

In his first season as the head coach at Benedictine College Preparatory  in Richmond, Virginia, Ryan Marable had a significant challenge to undertake.

It wasn’t an unfamiliar situation for Marable or something he didn’t know was coming as he’d spent the previous two seasons as an assistant on the Benedictine staff.

But as four starters departed the program for Division I destinations, the Cadets had plenty of production to replace and had only one constant remaining: Robert Johnson.

“We’re kind of similar to Indiana in terms of our basketball culture,” Marable told Inside the Hall. “If we don’t win the state championship, a lot of people say it’s a down year.”

Benedictine didn’t win the state championship.

But no one can consider their season, which ended up at 25-7 against a schedule that included opponents like Paul VI Catholic (Va.), St. Benedict’s (N.J.), and Huntington Prep (W.V.), anything but a success. A primary reason the program was able to sustain its winning ways was Johnson, who signed with Indiana last fall after a highly contested recruitment between the Hoosiers, Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia.

“His ability to not only score points when needed, but make other guys better was really the basis (for winning games),” Marable said. “I feel like he really grew into almost a college freshman playing high school basketball this year.”

When Marable speaks about Johnson, he’s a voice who can provide a unique perspective on the growth of a player who rose from having mid-major offers to the No. 47 player nationally in the 247Composite.

The Benedictine coach has known Johnson since he was in the sixth grade, which is when he first began coaching him.

“He’s always been in love with the game of basketball and he’s been one of those kids that kind of sits back and learns from other people’s games,” Marable said. “He’s very mature in the fact that he can identify his weaknesses and then he goes out on his own or with a coach or his dad or whoever and works on his game on his own. He’s probably one of the hardest working kids that I’ve ever been around. And we’ve been around some really successful basketball players.”

That hard work helped Johnson grow his game significantly over time. It’s what allowed a kid who had an early offer from UNC Greensboro transform and grow into a player than Indiana will count on heavily in its backcourt next winter when the season tips off.

The challenge that awaits, according to Marable, excites Johnson.

“I think one of the reasons he chose Indiana was because his skill set translated best there to getting on the court,” Marable said. “Not just for playing time, because he could have gone anywhere and gotten playing time. But he fills a need. Him and James (Blackmon Jr.) fill a need.”

There’s no doubt Indiana had consistent shooting help in mind when it began assembling its 2014 recruiting class. The Hoosier staff addressed the issue with the additions of Johnson, Blackmon Jr. and forward Max Hoetzel.

But as he approached his first season as the head coach at Benedictine, Marable not only looked at the present when coaching Johnson and his teammates, but also towards the future.

“One of the things we wanted to do, one of the goals we set was, ‘what are you going to have to do your freshman year at Indiana?’ You’re not just going to have to shoot the ball,” he explained. “You’re going to have to handle it a little bit, you’re going to have to get them into the offense a little bit, you’re going to have to rebound the ball from the guard position, you’re going to have to guard quick point guards, two-guards, three-guards.”

And that’s exactly what he did in his senior campaign.

Johnson led the Cadets in scoring (24.5 ppg) and rebounding (6.3 rpg) while routinely guarding the opposition’s best player and being the primary focus on the scouting report. He was efficient, too, as evidenced by his effective field goal percentage of 54.1.

Despite averaging close to 13 points more than any other player on the Benedictine roster, Marable said Johnson never got away from trying to make his teammates better. He never hunted shots. He never barked at teammates to give him the ball. He just got after it on a nightly basis.

One coach who went head-to-head with Benedictine and Johnson this past season summed up his thoughts succinctly when asked about the future Hoosier: “He’s tough.”

“He was really, really consistent night in and night out,” Marable said. “Regardless of whether his shot was falling.”

Benedictine’s season ended earlier this month in the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament and Johnson, who plans to arrive in Bloomington in time for summer school, is taking a short break to rest his body before resuming basketball activities. According to Marable, he’ll then continue to work out with his father, Robert Sr., and his friend, four-time NBA defensive player of the year Ben Wallace, who owns a gym in Richmond.

From there, he’ll play in a couple of all-star games, including the Derby Festival Basketball Classic in Louisville next month and play in open gyms at Benedictine before leaving for Bloomington.

When he departs, it’ll be a new experience for Johnson, but one that he’s ready to embrace.

“He’s got to get up there and make sure he buys in and does everything he’s been doing, but on a much grander scale when it comes to the hard work, the learning, the leadership,” Marable explained. “I know he’s really excited to get up there, see where he fits in, get better and get under Coach Crean and his staff’s guidance.”

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  • plane1972

    Man, I can’t wait for this kid!

  • drewheck

    Robert can’t arrive any sooner I’m ready to see him in Bloomington I think its going to be a better year than this one was

  • ty_smitty21

    Blackmon has all the hype, (rightfully so). But this kid appears to be special and a perfect fit. Some of our past recruits have had high ceilings, but were more about their athleticism. Johnson seems like a smart, all-around player who will contribute right away. Looking forward to seeing him at IU

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    I am a Hoosier because of him, and players like him. He embodies the true essence of an Indiana Basketball player. Robert, I cannot wait for you to step on the court for the first time. Nobody will be cheering harder for you or the rest of the Hoosiers than me. Do not take your foot off the gas and do it for us, do it for Indiana, but most importantly do it for yourself and your legacy at Indiana. My guess is that your legacy as a Hoosier will be a bright one.

  • VAHoosier

    I know everyone is swooning over JBJ, and rightly so, but I’m as excited–if not more so–about what RJ brings. Everything seems positive: hard worker, mature, just a steady, consistent guy on and off the floor. The Hoosiers desperately need that, more so than the flash that other recruits might bring.

  • Disco_Briscoe

    Can we get a better pic when writing about this kid? I know he’s wearing IU gear but the site can do a little better.

    He is going to play a huge role for the team. I’m imagining him being the 6 man scoring/shooting/energy spark that we were missing last year.

  • mckillio

    It’s seems like we all assume that JBJ will be starting next year but is there a chance that RJ will give him a run for his money during the season for a starting position?

  • afnewell01

    after it is all said and done I think Johnson will be a better all around player than blackmon in my opinion.

  • Shaggy_C

    So RJ, how did you spend your summer before coming to Bloomington? Oh, just learning defense from a 4-time NBA DPOY is all…

  • SCHoosier

    With just a little seasoning..this kid is gonna shake and bake.

  • AZIU71

    Sounds like a CTC special.

  • drewmiller1

    no kidding, compare this photo to his espn photo.

  • Jamarcus Ellis

    hopefully Ben Wallace is out of jail in time to actually work with him…

  • What’s the issue? This is a photo our photographer took while he was on a visit. Rather than using a photo from elsewhere, this is what we have.

  • Snookafly

    I think he will be a very good player at Indiana, but I wonder if we aren’t expecting too much from him right out of the gate. It happens every offseason when we talk about recruits. I just can’t imagine he’ll be as polished as Blackmon.

  • 323SGrant

    RJ seems like a quality person and basketball player. I believe he will represent Indiana U. well on and off the court.

  • IUDan

    I always think he looks like the Grinch … But Soon enough you’ll have plenty to choose from …

  • Disco_Briscoe

    I understand but I don’t think anyone would want a pic up where their squinting from the sun and making a weird face.

  • Miamihoosier

    I think we’ll see Rob, James, and Yogi out there together at times, if not regularly. They are just too good. If we ran those three with Troy and Hanner against teams without dominant centers, watch out.

  • g. mann

    I never hear much about JBJ’s D, but RJ gives us another tough defender. So many positives with this young man.

  • And One

    How many days until Hoosier Hysteria?!?! There’s got to be a countdown clock somewhere.

  • marcusgresham

    In a previous thread I had mentioned hiring a big man with NBA experience as an assistant coach. Now, he was never a big offensive threat, but how ’bout Ben?

  • ForeverIU

    You mean photos or grinches to choose from?

  • JetpackJunky

    Photos of the Grinch? Is Milla in town?

  • Shaggy_C

    Just be glad he’s decked out in IU gear! Most of the high school players we see are decked out in generic AAU/tournament jerseys. That hat makes the entire picture awesome, even if RJ looks like he’s grimacing at the chunky guy in the polo in the foreground.

  • ForeverIU

    Can’t wait for next year’s roster (including additions).

    A bit off-topic but sorta related: do we currently have enough people for a second team in practice (scrimmages)? I mean, who steps in for the extra help: Buckley? Johnson? Crean? McClain? Or Dr. Rink?

  • jmcguire

    we are going to need a big man though with vonleh going to the NBA.

  • Alford Bailey

    Put big Kenny down low!

  • Snookafly

    I was kinda wondering the same thing myself. I doubt we do– not a quality 5 on 5 anyway.

  • notfargj

    a player’s high school success – and, in particular, national ranking – is fleeting, less he or she continues to develop. part of me suspects that johnson’s drive will either elevate blackmon’s game or he could potentially outperform james altogether. naturally, the best scenario is that they both develop into superlative players.

  • wyohoosier

    I dont think we need to discuss who is going to be better, we need both to be studs next year!

  • ForeverIU


  • Devout Hoosier

    We’ll likely start three guards, a wing (Troy), & a big. RJ, JBJ, & Yogi could all start but Stan will likely be pushing for a starting position too as he improves even more.

  • Devout Hoosier

    Even if they have a dominant center I think we’re going to see that line up. Dribble drive offense only has one big/post player.

  • ForeverIU

    I saw a tweet that Tom Crean is meeting with Anthony Lee tonight? His official visits begin tomorrow? Let’s hope for the best on this one.

  • marcusgresham

    I think it’s a brilliant pic. He has Illinois cheerleaders right behind him, yet he’s staring all the way across the football field at the IU girls (because, unlike the Illinois cheerleader behind him, the IU lovelies don’t have a pooch that sticks out farther than the bosom.)

  • marcusgresham

    Going by the roster, (counting walk-ons, not counting Hartman, who is injured,) 8 remain. Jurkin, Mosquera-Perea, Davis, Williams, Robinson, Ferrell, Fagan, and Calomeris. Add in the 3 (so far) new guys and one dude at a time will get a rest during scrimmages.

  • CreamandCrimson

    Only having one ball handler was a constant issue this past season. Turnovers were a constant issue as well. Shooting was a constant issue. The backcourt will now consist of nothing but Top 100 players (Yogi, Stan, Blackmon Jr. and Johnson). The personnel can’t be used an excuse anymore for the issues I just mentioned. If we still struggle with those things next season, there can only be one conclusion (hint, hint…the only remaining explanation would be that the coaches don’t know how to fix it).

    Anyway, I think a lot of the issues we have last season should be solved by the upgraded backcourt. The previous issues might be replaced by new issues caused by a lack of competent big men…we’ll see. Of course, none of this speculation will be able to be proven until we see them on the floor against other squads. Still, I can’t help but be excited because IF things get fixed, I really like the core group of talent we have returning.

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    Alex correct me if I am wrong here but I think Fagan is stepping away to focus on academics and Calomeris is possibly as well.

  • KmanCRK

    I’m really excited about Johnson. Just like the group of guys that left Bloomington a year ago, we need to have a consistent flow of guys who absolutely love the game and have a tireless work ethic. I think this year that was a big part of the problem. Skill sets aside, hearing about his work ethic and desire to improve is what excites me the most. Positive energy is as infectious as negative energy (see JH).

  • KmanCRK

    Just like when we were oversigned by 2 a couple years ago, roster #’s always end up working out under Crean. I’m 95% certain this will be a 6 man class in the end with 4-5 scholarship freshmen and 1-2 guys with a year or two of eligibility. Keep in mind, we won’t have any scholarships dropping off next year since there are no seniors on the team, so if we have any 2015 guys lined up, we’ll need grad transfers (Lee) on the roster this season to have open spots next year.

  • yimyames

    Yes and lee tweeted later, a picture of a couple IU fans, saying IU has the best fans in the nation.

  • Gregory J. Haggard

    This kid will surprise Hoosiers with how good he is.

  • ForeverIU

    Yeah, I saw that!

  • Snookafly

    That is correct. I think he might be pre-med.

  • Brian Stewart

    Unfortunately we play stand around then drive offense..