[Part 1 of 2]Three years ago I attended a golf outing where Head Coach Steve Wojciechowski was giving a scouting report for his team. When he came to the subject of Theo John, he said something that floored me at the time saying, “Of all the players I have ever worked with, Theo John might have the highest ceiling. The coaching staff will work hard to see if we can bring it out of him.” Wow!
During Theo’s freshman year, he guarded Isaac Haas, the huge 7’2” 300 lb. post from Purdue. Theo fouled out in about 7 minutes and Haas came over and gave him some words of encouragement as John was walking off the floor with his fifth foul. I asked Theo a few months later what Haas told him and Theo said, “You are the strongest post player I have ever played against. Keep working hard and you will do well.” I guess Purdue was one of John’s final choices before picking Marquette and he got to know Haas on two visits.
I have always followed post play closely. I worked at Rick Majerus basketball camps in high school and I picked up some tidbits from Majerus, the master post teacher. Theo John has always been able to go to his right and left with drop step moves but he was more deliberate and slow doing it …almost ‘thinking’ rather than just doing. Once the light goes on and the confidence builds and movements become natural, MU could have a force in the middle with John.
Recently I was able to interview Theo to see how he was doing this summer. He looked much trimmer. I asked him if he lost weight. He had not. He is the same weight. He has just lost body fat.
DOS: Last year you were probably the most improved player. Your hard work paid off. Did you feel more confident? Did you feel like you took a step last year?
John: “I learned a lot from the coaches last summer. I wanted to be extremely coachable and listen to what they had to say and try to incorporate it. It paid dividends and I was able to put it on the court.”
DOS: Watching you early in your career at Marquette, you seemed to be very deliberate and thoughtful. Do you feel more confident that you can just move without thinking?
John: “A lot of it was confidence. Just knowing that I’m a good player and I am where I am supposed to be – and knowing that I can dominate a game when I need to was important.”
DOS: I don’t know if your demeanor freaks out referees – and I don’t want to put you on the spot – I was at home watching the Seton Hall game at NYC and you got thrown out of a game and you didn’t do anything. I guess you just looked mean. How in the world did you get thrown out of that game?
John: “A lot of people say it’s the hair – others say it’s the tattoos – others say it’s just being 6’9” and 255 lbs. – whatever the reason, I know the refs. I guess they saw something that a lot of other people didn’t and they threw me out of a very important game. That’s their decision. The game is over with, so I have to learn from that.”
DOS: Can you improve your image? Can you help an old lady across the court to her courtside seat while the referees are watching?
John: “You just try to play basketball and move on and if they don’t give you the next play, you just have to value the next time you do play on the floor.”
DOS: What are you working on this summer?
John: “I’m working on everything – confidence, which we just talked about – guarding the opponent guards to help out ball screens more – my shot – free throws – that has been huge. I already have the free throw percentage up and approved tremendously – just a lot of form stuff.”
DOS: Are you working on a jump shot too?
John: “Yeah, a lot of that comes with the form shooting. My shooting percentage has gone up a lot too.”
DOS: I’ve noticed that you are surprisingly good going to your left – which is very difficult for a natural rightie.
John: “A lot of people don’t know this but my left hook is more accurate than my right handed hook. I don’t know how that happened, but it is what it is.”
DOS: Have you had a chance to work out with Jayce Johnson yet? [Interview conducted before Johnson arrived ten days ago in July.]
John: “During his visit, we were able to play pick up and that’s really the only time he’s been here. I did get to play against him and he’s a great player. He’ll be great for our team.”
DOS: Could he push you to the PF position or could you push him to the PF position? I know Ed Morrow can go PF, but what about the twin towers?
John: “At the end of the day, it’s not my decision, whatever coach sees best. If he sees me playing all 5, then I’ll play all five. If he sees me playing the 4, I can do that, too. Whatever helps our team, I think we’re all willing to do so. I know we’re all in it for the same reasons. We want to win. Whatever coach draws up, we’re going to follow it.”
DOS: Speaking from a frustrated old post player, I find that some guards often don’t realize when a post is open. A guard is always clearly open with spacing 10 or 15 feet coming around a pick for an open shot – that’s easy to see, but a post will always be guarded closely – but they could still be open because they seal position and if the post gets the ball in the right place, game over, easy basket. Sometimes guards don’t always see it but posts understand it – that’s why post players are often the best post passers into the post.
John: “Exactly. Ed Morrow and I have been working all summer on post entry passes – playing together – getting used to that – because before then, we would be playing four guards out one big. Getting used to and getting comfortable playing with another big on the floor has been a huge focus this summer.”
DOS: I interviewed you three years ago at the barbeque when you were a Freshman, it is hard to believe it was three years ago, and you had mentioned how you graduated in April from high school, that’s when your semester ended and you came to campus two or three weeks early and by NCAA rules the coaches couldn’t work with you. So Matt Heldt took you under his wing and kind of showed leadership by showing you the ropes and really hanging with you for those three weeks. What was remarkable about that was that you’re the guy competing for playing time with Matt.
John: “Looking back, I still have the most respect for Matt Heldt. He’s a great man and literally a guy who was all in for the team. Like you said, we were competing for minutes but he was making sure that I was doing everything right and everything that I was supposed to – and giving me advice basically on how to beat him out for minutes. I love him for that. He didn’t do it out of shame – didn’t do it out of guilt – he just did it because he’s generally a great guy and he’s a great player. I am excited to see where he ends up in life.”
[In Part 2 of my interview, I will ask him about his impressions on the newcomers.]