Archive | July, 2009

Vandal Spotlight: Steffan Johnson

29 Jul

In the 2007-08 season, Steffan Johnson lit up the courts of the Big West Conference as the Pacific Tigers’ star point guard. He earned First Team All-Big West honors, averaging 14.5 points, 4.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 46.2% from the floor and a solid 41% from downtown. Last year, he ran into some troubles at Pacific and was expelled. He transferred to Idaho to join Coach Don Verlin’s rebuilding program. Teaming with First Team All-WAC point guard Mac Hopson, Johnson could give the Vandals the most feared backcourt duo in the conference.

We sat down with Steffan last week for his first interview as a Vandal.

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Courtesy AP

Vandal Nation: How’d you get your start in hoops?

Steffan Johnson: It was early. I started when I was two years old, thanks to my dad. He taught me the game and I was hooked right from the start.

Why did you choose Idaho?

Well, the Verlin connection helped for sure. (VN: Coach Don Verlin’s twin brother, Ron, is an assistant at Pacific.) I knew they were rebuilding at Idaho and as soon as I started looking to transfer, I liked what I saw in Coach Verlin’s program. I liked the players he was bringing in and I liked that it would be closer to home. I’m from Seattle and now my friends and family will get to see me play more often.

It seems like you and Mac Hopson have a really good rapport on court. Is that something you’ve been working on?

Not really – I think it’s more natural than anything else. I’ve been working hard to know how all my teammates play, and understand our strengths and weaknesses. With Mac and I, I think it’s just good coexistence on the court.
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Vandal Spotlight: Joe Kammerer

23 Jul

Vandal Nation launches a new feature today — Vandal Spotlight, where we go one-on-one with Idaho Vandals players and coaches. Our first victim is freshman center Joe Kammerer – a 6-9 big man from Eugene, Ore. with big goals on and off the court. Tomorrow, senior guard Steffan Johnson will enter the spotlight, marking his first interview as an Idaho Vandal.

Vandal Nation: How’d you get your start in basketball?

Joe Kammerer: I started playing just for fun in fourth grade, and got serious about it in middle school. I did some camps and joined an AAU squad and just kept getting better. That’s when I really got the feeling that I could be good enough to play college ball.

Talk about your high school career – a lot of success there, right?

I played for the North Eugene Highlanders. Right from my freshman year, I was on the varsity squad, though I didn’t play a whole lot. My sophomore year, I played more and we went undefeated, winning the Class 5A state championship. The last couple years, we struggled a bit in league, but we made it to the state tournament both times – as a junior we were sixth in the state and as a senior, we made it to the third-place game.

(Kammerer was named First Team All-Tournament as a senior, averaging 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while hitting 11-for-13 from the free-throw line.)

Who was looking at you, and what made you choose to become a Vandal?

I had interest from a lot of teams – Portland State, Weber State, USF, Santa Clara, UC Irvine, Utah State, San Diego State, Boise State, and of course here. I met Coach Verlin at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas, and I liked what he was saying about where he wanted his program to go. When I came to visit, I really liked it here and I knew right away that Idaho was the right fit for me. Moscow is a great town and the college environment is wonderful.

What are your thoughts on Coach Verlin?

When I came and visited, he was in full-on rebuilding mode. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as we talked, I thought that for sure he was going to have the Vandals heading in the right direction. He’s a really nice guy on a personal level, and as a coach I feel like he knows how to help me grow as a basketball player, just as he’s helped the program grow.

How would you describe your playing style?

Physical, for sure. I think to be playing where I’m at in the college game, you have to make your presence felt, get in there and be strong. That’s the only way. I like to shoot the three, too – it keeps the defense guessing. I’ll do whatever the coaches want me to do, though – ultimately, it’s all about getting the W.

You came up to campus for the summer workouts – how are those going and what are you learning?

It’s really important for me – getting to experience the whole different level of play is key. I’m really trying to work hard on building my strength – I’ve always been able to do some damage in the paint, but I found that in college ball, everyone is that much bigger. It’s a lot of hours in the weight room, a lot of protein shakes and a lot of work with the trainers. The gym time is also good from the standpoint of the team – I’m getting to play with and against everyone, seeing how all the pieces fit together. It’s making us all better.

Do you know yet if you’re going to play or redshirt this season?

I’m not sure, but originally the coaches said I would be playing. They haven’t told me officially, but I definitely want to play if they think I’m ready. It’s kind of motivating – I know that if I want to play, I’ve got to work as hard as I can to show that I can play at this level right away. But if I do redshirt, it’s no big deal – I’ll use the year to get even better.

You’re planning to major in film – how’d that come about?

I always loved the movies, and wanted to do something with film from when I was a kid. My freshman year in high school, I started taking film classes and decided it was a really wonderful creative process that I could see myself doing as a career. I even made a short zombie horror flick as my senior project – it was great fun, but I learned that the editing part is a real pain!

Do you have a favorite professional player?

Dwight Howard, for sure. The way he plays – very physical and yet athletic at the same time – is impressive. I’d like to be able to do that.

Any message you’d like to send to the Vandal faithful?

Come out and see us play, because this year’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m expecting the Spectrum to be packed every night, and I promise we’ll put on a good show.

Akey’s Army

22 Jul

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The 2009 Idaho Vandals football poster is out – and we certainly hope Akey’s third squad has the firepower to back up the martial imagery. Another 2-10 season, and Idaho’s football program will look more like the Republican Guard.

Hat tip to the (NMSU) Daily Aggie for pointing out the poster-o-rama.

The official word on Marcus Lawrence: No comment

20 Jul

We requested an interview with Don Verlin to clear up the state of ex-UNLV junior guard Marcus Lawrence’s scholarship. Lawrence had troubles down in Las Vegas and then had more legal problems once on the Palouse, in the form of theft charges.

Today, Idaho assistant SID Ian Klei told us Coach Verlin “didn’t want to comment on Marcus’ scholarship status.”

But based on the Vandals’ 2009-10 roster, it appears that he is playing as a walk-on. Parsing the WAC‘s Kevin McCarthy deduced, based on the 15-man squad, that he’s the only logical candidate to join Travis Blackstock as the two non-scholarshipped players.

Absent an official denial, we’re going to treat Kevin’s conclusion as true.

We hope Lawrence works through his personal issues to finish his education and play a positive role with the Vandals.

Vandals looking strong in the summertime heat

10 Jul

Midsummer in Moscow – and already, hoops watchers have a chance to see the Vandals back in action.

Most of the 2009-10 Idaho Vandals men’s basketball squad have arrived on campus for summer workouts, and in the heat of the afternoon, Mem Gym echoes with the sound of leather on hardwood and the shouts of determined young ballplayers. Official practices are some ways off, but open gym is just that, and the Vandals are making good use of the time. From a perch in the balcony, the tension is already palpable.

It’s early in the game, but first appearances are promising.

One question that had nagged Vandal-watchers was the role of senior point guard Steffan Johnson. With senior Mac Hopson showing star qualities in that role last year, where would Johnson fit in as he emerged from his transfer-redshirt season? Would a chemistry-damaging rivalry undermine the strong unity of 2008-09′s tight-knit team? Would there be a battle for playing time or split starts?

But seeing the two on court together, it’s clear that Coach Don Verlin had a plan for Johnson all along, and that the redshirt year has been well-used. Hopson and Johnson are working as a well-oiled and dynamic guard team, setting each other up and dishing off like they’ve been playing together for years. Johnson is a fearless competitor, juking and driving hard to the hoop, while showing the ability to knock down long jumpers seemingly at will. Mac’s 3-point game looks even better than before, too.

Jeff Ledbetter, a junior transfer guard from Irvine Valley College, looks to slot in alongside Luciano de Souza as a second 3-point specialist. De Souza and Luiz Toledo are both absent, playing in the World University Games.

True freshman Joe Kammerer, a 6-9 forward/center out of Eugene, Ore., could see solid playing time off the bench this year, as he brings much-needed depth to the post position. In man-to-man play, he matched up fairly well with Marvin Jefferson — though he was clearly out-muscled by the veteran big man. He would seem, at first glance, to be a redshirt candidate, but Joe told Vandal Nation that he’ll be playing this fall, and the newcomer is working overtime on strength conditioning. We’ll have a complete interview with Joe later in the month.

The presence of Marcus Lawrence, a mercurial junior guard who earlier left UNLV under something of a cloud, dispelled any rumors that he’d left the program — though we’ve been unable to confirm his scholarship status.

Returning starters Brandon Wiley and Kashif Watson have also been playing hard, and perhaps even harder now that the competition on their own team is getting tougher. It’ll be interesting to watch their progression this summer, with the Vandals’ starting five still probably in flux.

In a smart move that gives both squads more experience, several WSU Cougar players participated in the scrimmaging as well.

Kyle Barone, Shawn Henderson and Travis Blackstock were also out on court. I’m not sure if Landon Tatum and Corey Stern were there, but we’ll follow up on the loose ends as the summer workouts progress.

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