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House on the Hill: Johnson's Journey

Jan. 22, 2014

When he gets fouled these days, they're more forceful and physical. Johnson had a feeling that was coming.

And when he and his teammates went to a Dutch farm to get accustomed to the culture in Holland, he enjoyed experimenting on a rope course and trying a zip line.

Then he was asked to milk a cow.

"Safe to say, I didn't think the milking of a cow was necessary but I did it nonetheless. Ha!" Johnson said.

It's one of the many things Johnson, who finished his Lafayette career in 2013 sixth on the school's all-time assists list (374) and fourth in career steals (160), has done since joining the Den Bosch SPM Shooters of the Dutch Basketball League for the 2013-14 season.

Johnson, a First-Team All-Patriot League selection as a senior, has taken in the sites in cities he never imagined he'd see, added a little European flare to his wardrobe and already has made an impact on the court.

Johnson leads SPM Shooters in minutes per game (29.1) and is sixth in the league in assists (3.8 apg).

The 6-foot, 176-pound point guard is leading the SPM Shooters in minutes played (29.1). He also is sixth in assists (3.8) in the 10-team Dutch Basketball League, which plays a 36-game, regular-season schedule. He's shooting 53.4 percent (47-88) from the field and 31.7 percent (13-for-41) from three-point range.

Despite his success, Johnson admitted that it's been quite an adjustment to the game overseas.

"The professional game in Europe is much different than college basketball 'in the states,' as most everyone refers to it over here," Johnson said. "A few differences here are that all the players here are very smart. Ninety-nine percent of the offense is playing the pick and roll, all the players can shoot extremely well and the overall size of players is much bigger, so they set much harder screens." 

There's been nothing hard about the adjustment to life off of the hardwood. Johnson said most people in Holland, particularly in Den Bosch, which is about an hour from Amsterdam (the nation's capital) speak English. The food is similar to what's served in America. A typical dinner, he said, would be a chicken dish, with some type of potatoes on the side with a vegetable. And several of his teammates are American. He has, though, been advised to wear scarves.

“It's just to fit in with some of my fellow Dutch teammates who said that wearing a scarf is the 'European way,'” Johnson said.

Ali Farokhmanesh, a Northern Iowa grad known for having made a big three-point shot against Kansas in the NCAA tournament a few years ago, is Johnson's roommate. They live in a two-bedroom, furnished apartment paid for by Den Bosch.

Johnson also was handed a brand new car that the club writes the check for.

From left: American teammates Tai Wesley
(Utah State), Ali Farokhmanesh (Northern Iowa), Johnson and David Gonzalvez (Richmond). 

"I have been very blessed to be in such a great situation, especially right out of college," Johnson said. "I am lucky to have a great coach and even luckier to have the teammates that I do. My Dutch and American teammates all get along very well, but the Americans have become some of my best friends. We get together almost every night for dinner, cards or both. It's basically like a big family considering the amount of time we spend together on and off the court."

Prior to signing with Den Bosch, Johnson had been to Europe only once. After Johnson's junior year, Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon took the Leopards on a Eurotrip over the summer. The team stayed in Belgium and played four Belgium basketball club teams and toured places such as Brussels, Antwerp, Brugues, Paris, Amsterdam and London.

"That trip definitely influenced my decision to come here," Johnson said.

Since his arrival late last summer, Johnson and his teammates have been to Holland's Disneyland, which is called Efteling, Amerstdam, Belgium, France, Estonia and Germany, to name a few.

"We try to do as much traveling as we can on off days or when we have earlier Saturday practices with the rest of the day that is free," he said. "We also have festivals that go on every Wednesday and Saturday in downtown Den Bosch that we all have a great time at with plenty of food and entertainment."

Johnson, from Folsom, Calif., will get to see his family when it makes the trip to Holland in March, and it's a visit he admits he can't wait for. He won't get home, however, until May. He did get to College Hill during the winter break and even got to see a game at Kirby Sports Center.

The SPM Shooters (15-6), formerly known as Den Bosch Eiffel Towers, sits in second place, 2 1/2 games behind Groningen, in the Dutch Basketball League. His team has won 15 league championships since 1972, including most recently having won the regular-season title last year before falling in the semifinals of the league playoffs.

As for Johnson's playing days, he has no timetable set for how long he's going to play professionally.

"I've had a great time so far and want to make the very best out of it, but going into it, I told myself that I want to play as long as I'm enjoying myself, not because I don't have any other options," Johnson said.

"I was lucky enough to go to a great school like Lafayette to set me up for life after basketball, but I realize that basketball is something I can't do as a profession forever so I'm going to always do what feels right."

By Mandy Housenick

House on the Hill