Change nothing new for Johnson
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Want to find out what it's like for a college basketball player to go through a coaching change?
Talk to Zane Johnson.
When a new head coach for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team is announced later this month, it will be the seventh coaching change that Johnson has experienced in three years.
"When I heard it was going down, I was like 'well, here we go again,' " Johnson said. "I went through a lot of this stuff at Arizona, but honestly, I didn't think it would happen here."
Bob Nash was terminated as head coach of the Rainbow Warriors last Monday. A search is under way to find his replacement.
"When I came here, I thought it was a solid situation because Coach Nash had such a solid history here," Johnson said. "But the cards didn't just work out his way. The decision was made and I have to respect that."
Johnson's experience with the coaching carousel started at the University of Arizona.
In 2007, he was ranked as one of the nation's top prep recruits at Thunderbird High in Phoenix, Ariz. He signed with the home state Wildcats and longtime successful coach Lute Olson.
But Olson took a leave of absence for personal reasons just before the season opener, and Johnson played his freshman season under Kevin O'Neill.
Olson returned as head coach briefly in 2008, but announced his retirement before the season started. Russ Pennell was named interim coach for Johnson's sophomore season.
The Wildcats advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament that season, and Johnson started in 13 of the team's 35 games.
Johnson, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, averaged 4.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game that season, and ranked third on the team with 36 3-pointers.
Following that season, Sean Miller was selected as the new head coach at Arizona, replacing Pennell. That's when Johnson opted to transfer.
"I had to get out of there," he said. "It wasn't a good situation with so many changes."
Hawai'i assistant coach Eran Ganot recruited Johnson, who eventually chose the 'Bows over New Mexico, Brigham Young and Utah.
"Some transfers transfer out of big programs because they're not getting playing time," Ganot said. "Zane played. He played significant minutes in a Sweet 16 game. We were fortunate to get him, and I think there's enough data to show how good he can be."
Due to NCAA transfer rules, Johnson had to redshirt this past season.
"I felt sad for Coach Nash because he really was trying hard to win," Johnson said.
He added that he wanted to play in Hawai'i's flex-motion offense because it provides numerous screens for shooters.
"If everybody does their part, it's a great offense." he said. "But it's a five-man offense, so everybody has to do their part to make it work."
Johnson underwent surgery in October to repair a damaged patellar tendon. He started shooting with his teammates late in the season, and now puts up hundreds of shots on his own every day.
"There's no pain, it's doing great," he said. "I'm just glad I could get back in the gym again. I haven't felt this good in a long time."
Johnson is expected to be an immediate contributor next season, although he admits there is a chance he could add yet another coach to his list if the new Hawai'i coach is not the right fit for him.
"To be honest with you, I want to see what happens with (Ganot) first," Johnson said. "I signed to play for Coach Nash and Hawai'i, but (Ganot) is the reason. If he's still on board, I'm definitely staying. If not, I might look at other options."
WILLIAMS AND LAY REMAIN COMMITTED
Guards Dwain Williams and Jeremy Lay said they would like to return to play for the 'Bows next season. Both players missed the stretch run of this season for different reasons.
Williams ended the season on indefinite suspension for violating team rules.
"I don't really have anything to say about that," he said. "It's in the past."
Williams played in just 14 games, but finished second on the team in scoring (14.0 points per game) and 3-pointers (31).
"I want to come back and play here," he said. "A fresh start would be nice, and I'm concentrating on school so I can come back."
Williams said he attended the team's final meeting last Monday, when Nash told the players he was not returning.
"He addressed my situation and we shook hands," Williams said.
Lay missed the final seven games of the season after undergoing hernia surgery.
"I'm coming back," he said. "I'm ready to play."
Lay finished fourth on the team in scoring with 8.4 points per game.
The new head coach can retain or release any players from last season.