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.
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.
Is there a plan for you and Mac to run together as the starting guard pair?
Whether we go together at the 1 and 2 slots, that’s coach’s decision. There’s no guaranteed starting spots, I have to earn it. We have to wait and see for practice to start.
But if you put us on the court together, we would be an unstoppable force.
What did you do during the redshirt year?
I worked on the mental thing, mostly – not skills, but my attitude toward the game and my teammates. When I was on the bench or in the practices, I tried to point stuff out to the guys – even though I couldn’t play, I wanted to show that I could be a leader.
Do you have a favorite pro player?
I like the playing style of guys like Dwight Howard and Dwayne Wade, the intangibles they bring to the court – but I wouldn’t call them “favorite.” I pretty much like watching any basketball, period.
Your thoughts on Coach Verlin and the difference between Pacific and Idaho?
Coach Verlin drives me to be better – he’s a real player’s coach. He checks up on me all the time, and the staff as a whole is fun to be around. At Pacific, Coach Thomason is a great coach in his own way. But he was very set in his ways and it was kind of stifling. Verlin really listens to his players and bases his system on the style of play that his players bring to the table. He’ll move things around to fit how we play.
What are you majoring in?
I’m a communications major with a minor in broadcasting. I’d like to work in TV or radio when I’m done with hoops, as a sportscaster maybe.
Talk about the expectations coming off last year and the buzz that’s building around the Vandals.
There’s going to be pressure on us – but that’s the kind of pressure we want. Those full grandstands screaming and cheering, that gets the adrenaline going even harder. We want more of it.
Do you have a good sense about the Idaho/Boise State rivalry now?
Oh yeah – I didn’t realize how intense it was. To see our fans show up, how they got on the Boise State players, when they stormed the court – that was actually kind of hard for me. I was sitting there on the bench going “Man, let me get my jersey so I can get out there and play, forget this redshirt thing.” Those games are going to be something special.