Mat MacDonald AKA The Rook The Rook is currently enrolled in Human Kinetics at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. A frequent contributor to all NBA and Raptors debates along with other sports. Witty, quick and never afraid of a challenge, Mat's here to talk hoops with you and dish out his two cents whenever!
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You may not know a lot about Long Island University basketball program. You might not even know about Kyle Johnson. One thing’s for sure though - you’ll remember both by the end of March.
Coming out of Canada, Kyle had always dreamed of making it to the NCAA tournament and making his mark on the big stage. All he had to do was get there first.
Now, with an opening round matchup against the illustrious North Carolina Tar Heels, Johnson gets that chance.
An alumni of the PHASE 1 basketball program, Johnson’s gone through a lot to get to where he’s at today. Lead by Wayne Dawkins, Johnson gives a ton of credit to both Coach Dawkins and the program for his success. We got a chance to talk to Kyle about his thoughts before the tournament, PHASE 1, and his thoughts on international ball and how Canadians are making their mark south of the border.
Mat MacDonald: How much do you think working with Coach Dawkins and PHASE 1 helped your success today
Kyle Johnson: Coach Dawkins and PHASE 1 has helped me a great deal with my basketball development and success today. Coach Dawkins is great at critiquing each individuals basketball game and he focuses on the development of each individual player. He sees weaknesses in your game that you might not know you have, and focuses on how to turn those weaknesses into your
strengths. I have been a part of PHASE 1 since high school, and every offseason I always come back to work out with the programs PHASE 1 has to offer because I can be sure to get quality workouts and get something out of my off season to help me get better.
MM: Coming into the season what were some of the main things you focused on in preparing for the year?
KJ: Coming into the season I focused a lot on being a better leader, as well as my defence and ball handling. In the offseason I spent my time working out with the PHASE 1 training camps, and it was great. Coach Dawkins got some new equipment he used to help me with my speed and agility as well as conditioning.
MM: How does it feel to come out of Ontario and find yourself leading your team into one of the biggest tournaments in all of sports?
KJ: It feels great coming out of Ontario and leading my team into one of the biggest tournaments in all of sports. I remember my freshman year my team was picked to finish last in our conference, and now in my senior year we finished off with one of the best records our conference has ever seen. We also have four Canadians on this team.
MM: What's been the biggest benefit you've received from PHASE 1?
KJ: The biggest benefit I received from PHASE 1 is the opportunity to train and improve my game every year. PHASE 1 expands every year with new equipment and training techniques which helps me get better as a player because I am always looking to improve and I spend a lot of my training time with PHASE 1.
MM: Looking ahead to the future what are your goals after this season? With PHASE 1?
KJ: After the season my goals with PHASE 1 are to continue doing what I do every off season, and that is train and work hard on getting better so I can prepare for the next level.
MM: How are you going to prepare for the British National team once your season's over?
KJ: To prepare for the British National Team I am going to work out hard as well as watch a lot of film on myself from this past season and look at my weaknesses, this way I will be able to eliminate some of them and improve as a basketball player.
MM: How does it feel to play a team like UNC first round?
KJ: It is going to be a great experience playing UNC in the NCAA Tournament first round. Growing up everyone always talks about how great of a program North Carolina and Duke are and the great players that attended school there. I'm a competitor and look forward to the challenge.
MM: How will you match up against their guards?
KJ: North Carolina is a big and physical team, they lead the nation in rebounding, but we are not far behind we are 3rd in the nation in rebounding. We have to limit their transition baskets and keep them off the offensive glass because those are things they are exceptional at.
MM: Do you enjoy being an "underdog"?
KJ: I love the fact that we are underdogs, we have a opportunity to be a Cinderella team and put a lot of pressure on anyone we face. We will not be a easy out for anyone!
MM: Coming out of Canada and seeing all these Canadian players now playing in the NCAA, do you think that Canada as a country is catching up to the US?
KJ: I believe that Canada is growing with basketball but it has not yet caught up to the U.S. The U.S. puts a lot more money into basketball and there is still a lot more exposure when it comes to basketball out here. Our country has grown so much over the years when it comes to basketball, and I can’t wait to see where it goes as there are so many talented basketball players in Canada.
With his sights on a another title and millions watching across North America and the world, you can bet that when the lights turn on and the opening tip happens Friday night, Johnson and his boys will be ready.
Johnson’s fairy-tale season came up short. His team lost to UNC by double-digits and Kyle struggled with foul trouble the whole game.
One thing’s for sure, Kyle lived out the dream.