Nov. 15, 2010

By Jeff White

CHARLOTTESVILLE — He’ll be a spectator during UVa men’s basketball games this season. Don’t think for a second, though, that James Johnson will be idle for the next four months.

The 6-9 freshman’s decision to redshirt in 2010-11 means he’ll have extra time to train, and his instructor, Mike Curtis, is eager to begin.

“You don’t sometimes get an opportunity to do this when you have [the players] en masse, in a group setting, in the summers,” said Curtis, Virginia’s strength-and-conditioning coach for men’s hoops.

“But now that it’s just him and me, and I can specialize on certain things that he needs and delve into the program a little more in-depthly, it’s exciting for me to have this time with him.

“It’s fun, especially when you get a kid who’s already got the genetic athleticism that James has.”

Tony Bennett’s players typically lift weights twice a week during the season, Curtis said. Because Johnson doesn’t have to prepare for games, “our strategy completely changes,” Curtis said. “He’ll get on a regular schedule of movement training and strength training, those things, four days a week.”

Johnson, who’s from Wildomar, Calif., weighs “anywhere between 226 and 228 pounds on a given day, which is about where he came in,” Curtis said.

By May 15, Curtis would like Johnson to weigh around 240 pounds. His challenge, Curtis said, is “to come up with a program that allows me to put on those 15 pounds, those 20 pounds, and still be able to not take away from any of his ability to jump, to move and do all those things, which sometimes, when your sole purpose is just to put on weight, happens.

“My goal is to still enhance his ability to jump and run and do all those things.”

Johnson actually lost weight after enrolling at UVa in June. Initially, Curtis said, there “were some dysfunctional aspects to him that we needed to fix. He had some pain in his knees and in his lower back, so my priority, first and foremost, was to kind of get rid of that stuff. We’ve gotten to a place now where we’ve managed that. He doesn’t have that level of pain in his knees and his back, so now we can kind of dive into the more traditional strength-training things that have more of a focus on him adding that weight.”

Movement training is a critical component of Curtis’ program. Most people equate that term with “agility and quickness training,” said Curtis, but he’s teaching players “how to move and going through a strategic process of teaching them how to move specific to basketball.

“It’s not just simply going out and doing an agility ladder or this or that. That is foundational work. But for us, after we build that foundation of movement, it becomes much more specific in terms of what he will have to do based on our offense and what Coach Bennett needs him to do. That’s why I call it movement training. I’m teaching him how to move, more so than just developing agility.”

As a senior at Elsinore High last season, Johnson averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocked shots, and he was ranked among the top 100 recruits in the Class of 2010.

At UVa, Johnson joined a program that has a logjam in the frontcourt this season, with most of the playing time likely to be split among 6-8 senior Mike Scott, 7-0 junior Assane Sene and 6-9 Will Sherrill. So Johnson and Bennett decided that, with an extra year of development, Johnson would be able to make a greater contribution later in his Virginia career.

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