Johnson helping to keep Commodores afloat
Although Vanderbilt has endured some tough times on the basketball court this season, former Marshall County High School star Kedren Johnson is turning in a solid sophomore campaign for the Commodores.
After losing all five starters and a key sub from last year's team that posted a 25-11 record and advanced to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, Vanderbilt currently holds a 9-13 mark this season and has won just three of 10 games in SEC play while having no seniors and only two juniors on their roster.
Johnson, however, has emerged as one of the bright spots for the rebuilding Commodores and has started all 22 games at point guard this season.
Despite being hampered by a shoulder injury the past nine games, Johnson leads Vanderbilt in scoring (14.2 ppg), assists (3.3 asp), and steals (1.3 spg), while also ranking third on the team in rebounds (4.0 rpg) and fourth in blocked shots (12).
"The injury puts a hitch in my shot because my shoulder tightens up so I've just been trying to find other ways to help the team until my shoulder gets healthy," said Johnson. "Last year's team was just incredibly talented and the team chemistry was great. The veteran guys embraced all the freshmen. We're not trying to follow in their footsteps, but we're trying to establish our own identity. We have to fight and scrap to win games right now."
Vanderbilt has shown some signs of improvement and turned in one of their better performances of the season on Saturday afternoon when they whipped Arkansas 67-49 at Memorial Gym to avenge a 56-33 loss to the Razorbacks Jan. 12.
With Saturday's triumph, the Commodores snapped a four-game losing streak that saw them drop three contests by a total of just six points.
Much to come
"We got embarrassed the first time we played them in Arkansas so this was kind of a revenge game. This is also the start of the second half of the SEC season so we still have a lot of basketball to play," said Johnson. "I definitely know that we haven't tucked our tails yet."
Coming off a 2-of-12 shooting performance against LSU three days earlier, Johnson played a main role in Vanderbilt's victory over Arkansas on Saturday, as he scored nine points against the Razorbacks on three second half three-pointers while grabbing six rebounds and dishing out five assists.
"He has to play better for us to win and he did that today. He shot the ball well in the second half," said Commodore head coach Kevin Stallings. "He even got his shoulder banged today, but he played through it and hit some big shots."
Johnson knows that Stallings isn't going to sugarcoat things for him and believes that he is just holding his players to a high standard especially given the fact that the Commodores have qualified for the NCAA tournament five of the six previous seasons.
"His intensity is the highest I've seen out of all my coaches and he brings it every day," said Johnson. "He rubs some people the wrong way, but he doesn't rub me the wrong way because I know he's a competitive person. He's just trying to help you become a better player and you can't take it personally."
Following a stellar career at Marshall County High School, which saw him set MCHS' all-time scoring record with 2,442 points and capture the Class AA Mr. Basketball award as a senior, Johnson earned a spot in Vanderbilt's rotation as a freshman while serving as an understudy to veteran point guard Brad Tinsley.
During his freshman campaign, Johnson averaged a modest 3.1 points and 1.8 assists per game, but was often on the court late in the game for the Commodores. In the 2012 SEC tournament title game against eventual national champion Kentucky, Johnson converted the go ahead three-point play with 1:30 left in the contest to give Vanderbilt a 65-62 lead before the Commodores eventually claimed a 71-64 victory over the Wildcats.
Thanks to their triumph over Kentucky, Vanderbilt captured the second SEC tournament championship in the program's history while also snapping the Wildcats' 24-game winning streak in the process.
"Winning the SEC championship last year is by far my best experience here," said Johnson. "When we got home and got off the bus the place was going crazy."
Although the Commodores are considered a long shot to qualify for a postseason tournament this year, they return their entire roster next season and expect to put the lessons that they've learned during the 2012-13 campaign to good use.
"We're still taking it one game at a time and are keeping our focus on this season, but obviously we want to keep getting better and hope that carries over into next year," said Johnson.
If Johnson continues to progress at his current rate, Vanderbilt should expect bigger and better things next year.