It's not that Aaron Johnson expected the start that he had at Clarion University. As a molecular biology major, he's cerebral enough to know what his strengths and limitations are and how they would match up to the competition level of NCAA Division II basketball.
"I can't say I'm surprised," he said. "I'm happy with my start, but I feel there's a lot of things I can do better and improve upon that I expect to do going forward."
After sitting out the fall semester to fulfill transfer obligations, Johnson hit the court running for the Golden Eagles ... literally.
He had a double-double in his first game Jan. 4 against West Chester, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds, and followed that up the next night with nine points and five rebounds against Cheyney to earn Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference freshman of the week honors after just two games.
And for an encore?
In his third game he scored 19 points and had 15 rebounds against Central Penn, the most rebounds by a Clarion freshman since at least 1980-81, to help him earn freshman of the week honors for a second week in a row.
"I call him very economical," Clarion coach Ron Righter said. "There's no wasted motion. He's an A-B-C guy. If you take this away, he's going to do that. You take two away that, he'll go to his third option. He's not going to get flustered. He maintains the composure of a mature kid out there."
Johnson isn't your typical freshman. A 2011 graduate of Moon Area High School, Johnson initially enrolled at Princeton and envisioned himself competing for the Tigers in the Ivy League. He did not play last year and decided to transfer, enrolling in Clarion this past fall semester.
"It didn't quite work out the way I wanted it to," Johnson said. "I wanted to get the opportunity to play and I didn't feel like I had the right major. I wanted to switch up my academic goals and Clarion turned out to be the right place for me.
"I feel that I can accomplish my academic goals no matter where I am and I was really itching for a chance to play. Clarion offered what I needed so I took the opportunity."
And Righter couldn't be happier.
"He was on our radar when he was in high school. He was on a lot of people's radar. We got him from Princeton and when he became eligible this semester he's not like a typical freshman. Maybe a freshman playing-wise, but he has maturity. Every time he steps on the floor he improves. He has only scratched the surface with his potential. He's given us a nice lift."
Heading into Wednesday night's game against Mercyhurst, Johnson is averaging 9.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He is playing an average of 32.6 minutes per game.
Overall, the Golden Eagles were 4-9, 2-7 in the PSAC West heading into Wednesday's game. They dropped two games this past weekend by a combined six points and have lost four games this season by a total of nine points.
"I have to make sure I stay active ... stay active on the boards, make sure I get open for my teammates," Johnson said. "Not just scoring but also looking for my teammates, getting my teammates involved and looking to make sure I stay involved as well."
It has been this hustle that has made him successful thus far. A 6-foot-4 forward, Johnson is considered small for his position, especially in the competitive PSAC.
"You get your bumps and bruises," he said. "I've been undersized my entire life so I guess you could say I'm used to it. It's not every day you get to play against players who are 6-9. It's an adjustment and I feel it's one I can make successfully."
Righter agrees, sending Johnson out in the starting lineup to match up against players several inches taller.
"It's definitely a matchup problem, but they also have to match up against him," the coach said. "He can step outside and if they don't come out, he can hit the jump shot. He's a very good foul shooter. He can put the ball on the floor if they press us. We've always been undersized here so it's nothing new."
It's also nothing new for Johnson to excel off the court as well. While he was busy making his mark with the basketball team, he also was hitting the books and earned a 4.0 grade point average his first semester at Clarion.
"It's tough," he said. "It's all about time management and making sure you fix your priorities. It's always school and basketball, one and two. Once I get my schoolwork done and get my shots in, then whatever time I have left it's usually just going to sleep. I can't imagine I have the most entertaining life."
Rick Davis: email@example.com or 412-263-3789.