This past week, The College View caught up with DCU Saints forward Duane Johnson. The Lansdowne, Pennsylvania native is in the middle of his first season in Ireland and has had a huge impact on the Saints’ fortunes since arriving – helping improve his new team’s record from 0-6 to 4-9.
Johnson appreciates that while the Irish game fails to compete with any of the world’s major leagues in terms of athleticism, true basketball is still played here. “I would say that it’s a lot more physical. The refs let us play more. As well as that, it’s not as athletic as back home but I would say the fundamentals are definitely a lot better.
“For example when you play under the rim here, you have to have that skill where you can cut in and everything. Back home it’s just a lot of guys doing it on their own. Now you see the best guys (in the NBA) just going one-on-one but here it’s a team game.”
“I would definitely say Allen Iverson (is my biggest influence). That’s mainly because I’m from Philly,” said Johnson, who is naturally a die-hard fan of his hometown team.
“I would nearly say that he raised me. He’s the reason I play basketball. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to play the same style (as Iverson) because I knew I was going to be a lot taller than him but, you know, he was so cool on the court and just made me want to play.”
Duane attended Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, six miles southwest of Philadelphia, which is a city that lives on basketball and as a result there are thousands of students fighting for scholarships at Philly’s ‘Big Five’ basketball colleges – Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Penn, Temple and La Salle.
“I think (the pressure) helped me succeed. It’s tough. There are so many kids that want to play but there are only so many spots and so many colleges you can go to. It definitely toughened me up though because it’s a hard place. I was going through some stuff but if you’re not tough, they’re going to eat you up and spit you out.”
After graduating from East Stroudsburg University in the Poconos, a mountain range in northeastern Pennsylvania, Johnson began his professional career with the Corio Bay Stingrays in Geelong, Australia.
“I played in Australia in 2014 and I played well. I averaged 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) but they didn’t want me back. It was disappointing because we went to the championship game but they went with size, they wanted like a 6’11” guy.
“A friend of mine called Terrence King played in Ireland about two years ago, he played for UCD Marian, and he just told me about here. He said it was a good league and that I should contact some teams.
“I think I contacted four teams and the Saints got back to me. I got here in the middle of the season and we were 0-6 so they said they’d love to have me and they set me up with a place so it was a great opportunity.”
Johnson has been pivotal to the Saints’ turnaround of late, helping to improve their record from 0-6 to 4-9 but the American is confident that their play will only get better as injured players return.
“We need to have everybody there (to be successful). We haven’t had a game this season where our whole team was healthy. If we get Eoin (Darling) back on Sunday that will be our first game with him. We beat Demons (on December 20th) without him or Martins (Provizors).
“When we lost to Killester (on January 13th), we were without Kevin O’Hanlon who’s our star point guard now, I think he’s like James Harden, so we only had one point guard in that game. I know there’s only five games left but I honestly believe we’re one of the best teams in this country and I think we can win out.”
At 6’7” and less than 200lbs, Duane’s size and skillset is that of a shooting guard or small forward in America but the lack of 6’6” or taller players in Ireland means he has been required to play in the post a lot this season.
“I definitely thought it was strange because to be honest I’m more of a guard back home. When I got here it was what was needed because Martins got hurt but I was accustomed to it because I played in the post in high school.
“I have to say I like having big guys guarding me because they’re too slow for me whereas when a smaller guy guards me I have to go down in the post on them. Last time we played Demons they had Lehmon (Colbert) on me and I think I scored 39 because I could just bring him up and down the court.”
Having averaged 29.8 points, 20.1 rebounds and 3.8 blocks, Johnson will undoubtedly have caught the attention of clubs overseas but he insists it will take a lot to make him leave the Saints next season.
“I love it here. Everyone at the Saints is so welcoming. I’m really close with the Nearys (Philip and Martin). I hope with the way I’m playing I’ve opened a few eyes but I’ll weigh my options in terms of money and situation. I’m comfortable here, though.”
The Saints’ next game is away against UCC Demons on February 7th before hosting Swords Thunder in DCU on February 13th at 7pm.
Image Credit: Ciarán Dunne