What goes through the mind of a player who's in "the zone"? CHN writer Jon Teitel had the opportunity to find out, talking to Montana star guard Anthony Johnson about his performance against Weber State among a variety of topics in advance of the Grizzlies' first round matchup with New Mexico.
Jon Teitel: Your halftime ritual/obsession is to rub lotion on your hands. How long have you been doing that, and why do you do that?
Anthony Johnson: I have been doing it for about 4 years now. It is just a superstition, but it helps me get adjusted to the game ball as it seems to stick to my hands better.
JT: Your mother raised you as a single parent, then you lived with your father for a couple of years during junior high school, then went back to live with your mother during high school. Was it hard to keep going back and forth like that, and what impact did it have on you?
AJ: It was not a hard adjustment at all; the hardest adjustment was living with my dad because we are so much alike. It was the first time that I had a father figure in the same house. I do not think it had that much of an effect on me, as I always had a great relationship with my mom.
JT: Your wife Shaunte Nance-Johnson plays guard for the Montana women's team. What is it like to be married while in college, and why did you both decide to go to Montana?
AJ: During the recruiting process I sold myself as a package deal along with my wife, and Montana was the only school that offered us both a scholarship. I had a great career at Yakima CC, but it was hard to find a school to take both of us.
JT: In 2005 you were washing dishes at a seafood restaurant trying to earn money to buy a car when the two of you started dating, and she ended up persuading the coach at Yakima CC to give you a tryout. How much of your success do you owe to your wife, and what has she taught you after her own trip to the NCAA tourney last year?
AJ: I owe everything to her; she got me my first opportunity to play and she believed in me when I did not believe in myself. I gave up the sport after high school, but was still playing at the YMCA and local rec center. She got my foot in the door, and then I ran with it. When I saw her win the conference title last year, it was a great experience for me, and it motivated our men's team for this year. That is also how it was at the junior college level. I learned from her about how to make a team work together and how to win games.
JT: Your coach Wayne Tinkle played 12 years of pro basketball. What makes him such a good coach on the court, and what is the most important lesson he has taught you off the court?
AJ: He is a player's coach; he knows what works and what does not. I am constantly studying him and have also become a student of the game. He is a role model both on and off the court: he has taught me to remain focused and consistent off the court.
JT: You shoot over 40% from the three-point line for your college career and almost 90% from the foul line. Which do you think is more important in the tourney, and what is your secret for being such a good shooter?
AJ: It is just hard work; shooters are made not born. I have learned how to be a great shooter, and had to make myself into a great shooter. The key for me in the tourney will be getting easy baskets. I have made it to the FT line a ton throughout my career, so I will just try to be aggressive from the start of the game.
JT: In 2009 you were named Big Sky newcomer of the year while averaging 18 PPG. How were you able to come in and contribute so quickly?
AJ: I have been fortunate to take a back seat and learn from other great players around me. Last year I was allowed to be in a system that was geared towards my kind of game, and I always remember to work hard and focus on our team's goal, which is to win.
JT: You scored a tourney-record 42 points and played all 40 minutes of the title game in a one-point win at Weber State, including a game-winning jumper with 10 seconds left to win the title. Was that the best game you have ever played, and do you think it will end up changing your life in the future?
AJ: I think it will change my life, and it is the best game I have played up to this point. I think it opened people's eyes, and also opened doors that I am not even aware of yet. I have had some high scoring games in my career, but not in a come-from-behind situation like that with so much at stake.
JT: Your team is a fourteen-seed who will play three-seed New Mexico. How do you like your chances against the Lobos, and what is your goal for the tourney?
AJ: My goal is to make it out of the first round. We are not satisfied with just winning the conference; we want to go out with our heads held high. I think...no, I know we can do it if we do not get behind early and do not turn the ball over.
JT: If you upset NM, then you will play either Marquette (where Coach Tinkle's father went to college) or Washington (who only beat you by four back in November). Is it easy to keep your focus on New Mexico, or do you see any signs of your coach or teammates looking ahead to a possible 2nd-round match-up?
AJ: We are completely in the moment. At tourney time it is "win or go home"; you cannot afford to stray from the task at hand and become unfocused. We are on a mission, and looking past New Mexico would be detrimental to that mission.