10 March 2011
On a six hour bus ride from North Dakota to South Dakota, Armon Johnson had no idea such a long tiring road trip would be part of his first year in the NBA.
But in early February, reality hit hard for the Portland Trail Blazers rookie when he found himself playing in the D-League for the Idaho Stampede. Johnson wondered how he went from the Association to packed on a bus with a bunch of NBA hopefuls and maybe even a "has been" who passed along words of wisdom along the way.
"That was a trip. It can get crazy down there going from small town to small town like that," Johnson told Beyond the Beat.
"The whole experience was humbling overall."
Humbling and effective -- during his time in Boise, Johnson appeared in nine games and averaged 18.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 27.6 minutes. And in those contests, the smooth lefty out of Nevada netted more than 20 points in five games. Best part for Johnson: he was actually getting playing time and heeding the advice from someone who has been there and done that around the NBA.
"Toine really helped me out," Johnson said of Stampede forward and former three-time NBA All-Star, Antoine Walker.
"The very first game he told me, ' Young fella -- slow down. Enjoy the game.' Once he taught me that, I remembered it the whole time. He even hit the 'shimmy' one time for me too during the game. He got real hot and just let it out."
Since returning from the D-League less than a month ago, Johnson has barely seen the floor at the Rose Garden or on the road playing behind Andre Miller and Patty Mills. Playing a combined two minutes almost makes missing Boise understandable, but while the run isn't there for Johnson, he continues to grow by watching and learning.
It's all about game film.
"That's my main hobby. I've been watching this DVD with my D-League highlights, both good and bad. I've been watching it over and over every day and just critiquing my play," explained Johnson.
"I was really seeing the game when I slowed it down a little bit -- like on pick and rolls, running defenders into one another. That's what I relive and keep in my mind, because if I'm not playing here I want to keep my feel for the game and not lose it."
Right now, fellow Blazers rookie Luke Babbitt is getting his second stint with the Idaho Stampede. Babbitt scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 144-112 win over the Iowa Energy last Sunday. And while he knows exactly what Babbitt is going through being away from Portland, Johnson understands a return trip to Boise isn't out of the question.
Maybe that's not such a bad thing either.
"I used it as a fun time to play and learn about my game, and basketball is so fun to me that when I was out there, it was like I got drafted all over again. I was getting minutes and getting my shots up and making the most of it. It was tough being away from the guys here, but they were on a winning streak so I decided to go on a winning streak of my own when I was in Boise.
"Even on flights, you go in to the airport just like everyone else carrying your own luggage and taking care of your own business," Johnson said of his D-League travel plans.
Standing in Portland's locker room before heading out on a long road trip, Armon flashes his signature smile, fixes the collar on his blue button-down shirt, and throws a pair black headphones around his neck.
"In the NBA and with the Blazers, you go in the back way and everything is ready to go -- you get your ID checked and you're on your way."
And just like that, he was out the door and heading home to pack his bags.
It's all part of Armon Johnson's season-long journey.
photo: oregonian/bruce ely
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