NORMAN, Okla. - Sophomore men's basketball player Austin Johnson was a two-time first-team Texas All-State honoree by the time he left Amarillo's Palo Duro High School in 2005. The combo guard saw plenty of court time for the Sooners as a true freshman last year, but not nearly as much as he likely would have had he not sustained a second-degree ankle sprain during the team's first exhibition game in early November.
The lanky 6-3 Johnson, who is the leading scorer in Amarillo city history with 2,602 points, averaged 3.1 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 18 minutes a game last year. He missed five games due to the ankle injury, yet still made 13 starts on the season and flashed his court savvy on many a night.
So how is Johnson's ankle these days and what does he think about the Jeff Capel-led 2006-07 Sooners? Find out in this SoonerSports.com Q and A conducted this week.
Q: You sustained a bad ankle injury last fall that plagued you all season. How does it feel now?
A: "Compared to last year, it's a lot better right now. It's not 100 percent yet but we're working to get it there. I sat out the other day because it was a little swollen. Sometimes it still bothers me from running on it so much. I went to the football game and I stood up the whole time so it hurt me after that. It's way better than it was last year and I play on it mostly every day. I think it's an eight or a nine on a scale of one to 10, whereas last year it was a six or a seven the whole year."
Q: Do you remember how it happened and did you know it was that bad right when you went down?
A: "I really haven't messed up my ankles too bad in all my years of basketball. I mean I've sprained it just a little bit a couple of times, and that's what I thought it was last year when it happened. I thought I might miss a couple of games. Once it turned purple and got real big, that's when I knew it was worse than I thought. It happened in our first exhibition game. A guy on the other team drove the lane and I went up to block the shot. When I came down I landed on his foot. Right when I got up I hopped all the way to the training room. I didn't even stop at the bench."
Q: What's the coaching transition been like for you?
A: "As of right now I'd say it hasn't been too tough. Since Coach Capel hasn't really been able to do a whole lot with us up to this point, the transition hasn't been that difficult. Once practice starts it might get a little tougher, but not right now."
Q: What are some of the things you like about Coach Capel and his assistants?
A: "With the guards, they've been working with us doing a lot of dribbing and shooting and stuff. It seems they like to get up and down the court more, which is what I like to do too. That's how I played in high school -- pressing and getting up and down the court. Away from the gym, they're great guys. They don't have to be here in the morning when we run at 6, but they're here cheering us on and just trying to help us out. They always tell us to keep in touch with us when we go out of town and check in with us to make sure we made it safely and stuff like that. So they're great guys."
Q: How far have you come as a basketball player since this time a year ago?
A: "Coming in as a true freshman, well, my ankle injury really set me back a lot. But coming in and getting my feet wet, getting in games, starting in games, playing well in some games -- that was a great start for me. I think that will carry over and really help me out these next three years. Knowing what to expect in games and in practice will be a big help. I didn't know what to expect when I first got here, like with how physical it is, how quick the pace is and things like that."
Q: What are some of the elements of your game that you've focused on during the offsesason?
A: "I tried to focus more on my ball handling and my jump shot. I'm trying to work on a 15-footer and not always take 3's. Like take one dribble in (from the 3-point line) and then shoot it. I'm working on those things during our individual workouts and I'll also come in on my own and work on my jump shot."
Q: This team is flying under the radar with the loss of Kevin Bookout, Terrell Everett and Taj Gray. What do you think this team can do this year?
A: "I think -- well, I already know -- that people will underestimate us this year. Last year we were the top team or two in the Big 12 going into the season. I think it's better to be the underdog because we can go out there and just play. Maybe it's Kansas or Texas that's supposed to be the top team. If we go out and beat them, that makes us look a lot better. Last year, when we were on top, they'd come out and want to beat us because we were the top team. So I think being the underdog this year is going to help us because people will underestimate us."
Q: Does that help you guys as players relax a little more?
A: "I think it does. I think it's less pressure. To me, you're going to be more tense when you're on top and when everyone has you picked to win. I think it could take a lot of pressure off us."
Q: What was your favorite moment from your freshman year?
A: "I'd say beating Texas here. That was a great game."
Q: How are things going in the classroom for you?
A: "My grades are fine and everything's cool. I think I have my major down to either criminal justice or business. I haven't made my final decision yet, but I'll probably decide this semester."