By Jeff Goodman
During college basketball's slow time, we're shining the spotlight on some small guys. Today, Bucknell gets some love.
Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen admits that, as a coach, you try not to play favorites. But he's also forthcoming when saying it's awfully difficult with Bryson Johnson because he is everything a college basketball player should embody.
That's why he was dreading the conversation on Thursday morning with Johnson -- one of the nation's top perimeter shooters and a key reason why Bucknell went to the NCAA tournament a year ago. He was set to break the news to Johnson, who started every game a year ago, that he'd be coming off the bench.
"I struggled with it, but he made it so easy," Paulsen said. "Right away, he said, 'I know what you want to talk about.'"
"He's a guy you want to train your guys to be like," Paulsen said. "He's the most passionate, committed guy I've ever coached. He has all the intangibles, the leadership. ... He's the best kid I've ever coached."
And just a week or so ago, Paulsen was worried he might not have Johnson for a while. That's when Johnson came down awkwardly on his knee during practice. The doctors weren't certain how serious the injury was, but Paulsen was sweating it out that night until the results of an MRI the next morning showed no significant damage.
"I was really scared for our team, but more for him," Paulsen said. "I have such a soft spot in my heart for him. ... But he's fine. We held him out against Binghamton, but he's been practicing and he'll play in our next game."
The reason for Paulson bringing Johnson off the bench is not only to give the Bisons scoring punch, but also to get freshman point guard Steven Kaspar in the starting lineup. Thus far, Paulsen has played Cameron Ayers (right) at the point, Randy's kid is more of a two-guard and this will allow him to play his natural position.
"I didn't want to throw Kaspar to the wolves too early," Paulsen explained his reasoning for not making the move earlier. "We started with Minnesota and Vandy."
Bucknell is 6-4 thus far this season, with a game against Richmond on Saturday, and the Bison will enter Patriot League play as the clear-cut favorites -- especially if Kaspar performs as well as his coach is hoping. Ayers leads the team in scoring (12.2), but this team is balanced -- not unlike the one that won 25 games and went 13-1 in league play last season.
Big man Mike Muscala is averaging 12.1 points and 8.9 rebounds, face-up forward Joe Willman is in double-figures (11.1) and Johnson is at 9.4 points per game. Bryan Cohen doesn't have to score much, but the lone senior in the rotation has proven himself as the best perimeter defender in the league.
"We have a chance to be really good," Paulsen said. "It's different than last year, though. Now we have to learn how to handle the expectations."