This article was originally written by Jeremy Tepper and appeared in The Pitt News on October 6, 2015. It has been republished with the author’s permission.
Most students fear the “freshman 15.” Pitt shooting guard Cameron Johnson embraced all that and more with open, growing arms this offseason.
Johnson, an unheralded 2014 recruit from Moon Township, arrived at Pitt as a slender 6-foot-8, 185 pounds boy — taller and lighter than the average collegiate shooting guard. He played the first eight games of last season then a shoulder injury in December ushered him to the bench.
In the time off, Johnson gained 30 pounds — not all of which was muscle — Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said at Pitt basketball’s annual media day, a body change that will help Johnson’s physicality on the court.
“Cameron Johnson’s gotten heavier and it hasn’t all been great weight, as far as muscle — that’s usually what you expect,” Dixon said. “He just needed weight, and now we’re going to have to redefine it.”
With Johnson’s skinny build coming in to Pitt, Dixon expected Johnson to put on some body mass, and the guard made that an emphasis this offseason.
Johnson specifically aimed to improve his lower body because he couldn’t lift weights with his shoulder injury. He underwent surgery on the shoulder in January.
“The biggest thing was working on strength overall. Lower body strength was a big thing until I got my shoulder strong,” Johnson said.
Johnson — who had a late growth spurt that began in high school, bringing him from 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-8 — knew he needed to put on weight once he got to Pitt.
“I knew it was going to happen. I’m sure everybody knew it was going to happen because I didn’t have much to lose and I had a lot to gain,” Johnson said.
That inevitability combined with his hard work in the gym added up to a 30-pound weight gain, Johnson said.
“I’m just filling out naturally, along with lifting,” Johnson said.
Johnson can now compete more physically with his improved strength.
“It’s a lot easier to push people where I want to push them. It’s a lot easier to go where I want to go,” Johnson said. “It feels good to move rather than to be moved.”
Besides gaining weight, Johnson said he worked on improving his defense.
“The more defensive principles you learn, the more you remember what you’re supposed to do, the more confident you are in what you can do and what you’re supposed to do,” Johnson said.
Dixon also expressed that the guard needed to improve on the defensive end. This didn’t come as a surprise to the coach, given the lack of focus on defense in high school basketball.
“What he needs to become is a great defender, and he has the ability to do it, it’s just never been something he had to do in high school,” Dixon said.
Johnson provides Pitt with a rare combination of height with shooting and guard skills. Thanks to these attributes, Dixon said he could be an X factor off the bench.
Dixon lauded him as Pitt’s best shooter last year, as he registered eight total three pointers in eight games before going down with the injury. He averaged 14.4 minutes per game coming off the bench
“He can shoot the ball at 6-foot-8,” Dixon said. “He can shoot, he can pass and he puts the ball on the floor a lot better than people would think.”
With the Panthers’ first exhibition game coming on Nov. 6, at the Petersen Events Center against Gannon University, Johnson is anxious to throw his weight around on the court again.
“Just missing all that and watching on the sideline, it makes you hungry. You want to get out there and do whatever you can to help,” Johnson said. “I’m going to play as hard as I can, give everything I can, be unselfish, play good defense and do what we have to do in order to win.”
While Johnson hasn’t yet carved out his niche on the Pitt roster — he’ll likely have to make contributions from off the bench — Dixon is glad to have the developing guard on the team.
“[Cameron’s] obviously a late bloomer, a guy that’s grown late,” Dixon said. “He’s filling out, and we’re excited about him.”