The Indiana Pacers recently selected former Missouri State star Alize Johnson in the 2018 NBA Draft. He recently caught up with HoopsHype.
Johnson is a 6-foot-7 forward who averaged 15.0 points and 11.6 rebounds with 1.2 three-pointers per game last year. He led the Missouri Valley Conference in offensive, defensive and total rebounds during both his collegiate seasons at Missouri State. His total rebound percentage (21.1 percent) ranks No. 2 overall in MVC history.
The forward also ranked Top 5 in points scored both years in the conference and Top 10 in assists during his final season. Johnson’s effective field goal percentage ranked Top 10 both years as well.
Johnson, who had nearly a dozen workouts with teams around the league, spoke with us after his final team workout and before he was drafted by the Pacers.
You worked out with De’Aaron Fox (Kings) and Lonnie Walker (Spurs) earlier this summer. What did you pick up playing against those young stars?
AJ: They’re great dudes, first and foremost. I had a lot of fun working out with De’Aaron Fox because of all the experience he picked up in his first year and he almost sounded like a veteran. He’s younger than I am but the advice he had was unbelievable. He’s a guy that really understands the game and thinks it through. It really helped me prepare for the workouts and there were certain actions I ran with my trainer Chris Gaston and it was huge. Lonnie plays above the rim and had unreal athleticism. I want that edge and fire and dunk the ball. They all knew what they were talking about and took advice from each other.
What’s some advice you would tell a prospect in the exact same position you were in one year ago today, coming off a strong junior year at a mid-major program?
AJ: Control what you can control. Don’t pay attention to so much media and people in your ear. It can be a distraction at times. Work hard and it won’t go unnoticed. Keep going forward every day. It counts. That’s my advice to truly anybody in this process. Have a great character. Respect everybody. Treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s all helped me a ton.
Tell me about how your pre-draft workouts went with teams around the league.
AJ: A lot of the workouts were pretty similar. It was a lot of competing at three-on-three or one-on-one. One of the things I was trying to show teams is that I can defend multiple multiple positions and shoot the ball consistently. I can get out in transition and make the right plays. I really loved playing against elite talent, it really improved my draft stock. The combine helped me, too. I enjoyed the process and took it to my full advantage.
How did your draft stock change because of the workouts and the combine? What did you do to help improve your image?
AJ: Last season, I struggled a little bit. Teams may have drifted away because they felt they didn’t see the same person I was at camp or during the summer. I think that I showed people at the combine I can play at a high level. I was invited to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and I had trouble deciding whether or not to go. But I felt that I proved myself without going and still got an invitation. I was blessed with that opportunity.
What kind of feedback were you getting from teams at the combine? What were you hearing from teams when you were at workouts?
AJ: They liked that I was able to rebound at a high level and get out in transition. The game is changing to where you have to defend guards and forwards and they liked that I can switch in those situations and contain. I can knock down the three ball but I can also become a more consistent shooter and spread the floor. They say I’m going to be a role player and I can play at the next level.
Where are you with your three-point shot? How is your comfort at the NBA range?
AJ: It’s different but at the same time, I’m capable of making it. I think it’s going to come down to me putting in all those extra hours in the gym and just shoot the ball. My junior year, I shot nearly 40 percent from the three-point line. It’s going to have to come down to me putting up a lot of shots.
You’re coming from a small conference and a small school. What are some of the struggles you faced without as much exposure and how did you combat that?
AJ: They wanted to know if I could get boards against more athletic people and defend against quicker guards. They wanted to know if I could compete and how physical I could be against elite talent. That’s one of the things that hurt me in a mid-major conference but I think I proved I could play with the best.
When you’re not playing basketball, what are some things you like to do to keep busy?
AJ: I like to hang out with friends. One of the things I like to do is fix iPhone screens. But basketball has taken over my life these past four months so I haven’t been able to do that as much as I want to. I also love being around my family and motivating the community and the youth to see their dreams. I’m religious and I go to church every Sunday. That’s a huge part of where I am today. My mom is my biggest motivator. I have six siblings and they’re very involved in my life. That’s my second wind and keeps me running the floor non-stop.
I’ve interviewed a lot of people. I’ve never heard someone mention iPhone screens.
AJ: I’ve been in all my interviews and everyone is shocked when I say that.