William S. Paxton: Coleman Johnson finds niche with Fairfield basketball

FAIRFIELD — Away from home and riding the bench, Coleman Johnson appeared ticketed to a lost first season at Fairfield University.

A preseason left knee injury had reduced the 6-foot-6 forward to the role of spectator for the first four games of his Stags career, and once he started suiting up on game days, his playing time was spotty at best as he tried to come back.

“I got hurt at the beginning, so my flow got thrown off,” the Oak Hill, Va., native said. “I was just trying to get back to where I was and make sure I was a valuable part of the team. I just kept working towards that, and at the end, it showed.

In his first 24 games, Johnson averaged just 2.3 points. In the final five, he averaged 8.4 points and finished the season with a career-high 18 against Kent State in the opening round of the CIT.

“Coaches believed in me more and gave me more playing time,” Johnson said. “My teammates believed in me more and let me take more shots.”

Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson never stopped believing in his freshman forward during the season, but the strong finish certainly left everyone with a better feeling heading into the offseason.

“There’s no doubt about it, he’s a kid we are extremely high on,” Sydney Johnson said. “He’s another kid who is very easy to put out there with four other guys, and he just seems to be in the right place at the right time. We want him to score. We want him to rebound.

“He’s got great potential, but the biggest thing with him is he’s easy to plug in with other guys. He’s just a really good player, not only a good teammate, to play with other pieces.”

The final five games helped put Coleman Johnson somewhat at ease about his future at Fairfield after a trying start that included being away from home and also dealing with the first serious injury of his career.

“It definitely gave me more confidence,” he said. “If I didn’t finish the season the way I did last year, I’d probably have a different mindset and feel like I have to prove myself more. I still have to prove myself because it was really only the last four games I played well.

“My goal now is to help, keep up the work and make sure I don’t fall off from what I started last year.”

A new strength and conditioning program has already benefitted Johnson, who is playing without the meniscus in his left knee, which was removed when he had surgery prior to last season.

“(The program) does stuff that really doesn’t aggravate my knee too much,” he said. “The trainers told me to watch out and if things start hurting my knee to stop, which I didn’t do last year. I just kept going with it, trying to push through it.”

For the most part, Johnson said the knee has held up rather well since the surgery, and that he just needs to rest it and use plenty of ice.

“I don’t have that cushion in my knee, so when I jump, sometimes it swells up, but nothing too serious,” said Johnson, who did not wear a brace on the knee because he noted it didn’t really help. “When I run around, it’s fine. I just have to give it a little warm-up time.”

So does that mean no dunking?

“Oh no, there’s still going to be dunking,” he said, with a smile. “Just a little less.”

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