New Raptor feels appreciated

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:17 PM ET

LONDON, England -- James Johnson has been to London as a member of an NBA team, but like everything these days, Johnson feels like he's doing everything for the first time.

A year and a half in Chicago where minutes were sparse and impactful minutes almost non-existent has for the most part been very easy to forget for the 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward.

That's because for almost all of it, including an exhibition here in London against Utah in the 2009 pre-season, Johnson didn't feel like he was part of the team.

He'll take the blame for some of that. A starter all his life in basketball, James had expectations in his rookie year but spent most of the first 40 games coming on for five or six minutes.

"It's hard for anyone, but as a rookie coming in thinking you should play, not knowing you have to keep working because you don't know when your chance is coming, I just didn't know that. Not knowing that, I wouldn't do the extra things. I wouldn't shoot after practice or I wouldn't come in and do the extra lifting or anything. It was because I didn't know. I was young, immature."

A comment from good friend Joakim Noah, who told James that he reminded him of himself when he was pouting about his playing time in his rookie year, finally got Johnson back in the proper frame of mind.

"I figured out it didn't matter what those guys had planned for me," Johnson said. "What mattered was what I had planned for me and that's when I grew up. From that point on, nobody could say anything bad about my work habits. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau couldn't say anything bad about me. I didn't leave it up to them. I took control. Off days I was in the gym. After practice, I was in the gym weight lifting getting me right."

When playing time was hard to come by again this year, Johnson asked for and received permission to go down to the Bulls' D-League team where he knew he would get the chance to play.

"I asked to go down, just so I could get some games under my belt," Johnson said. "Second year in a row not playing a lot and I wanted to prove to myself that I could still play basketball. I love it that much that it didn't matter where it was, or the travel arrangements or the hotels we stayed at. I just love basketball.

"It was a great experience, an eye-opener," Johnson said. "When you go down there, it keeps you hungry. It's not something you want to go to but in my predicament you don't want to be sitting down cheerleading either."

It all of paid off when the Raptors dangled a late first-round pick in the draft in an offer to the Bulls and Chicago jumped at it.

Now Johnson has found a place where his defensive skills, his energy and his passion for the game are appreciated. He has started the past four games at small forward and helped the Raptors eke out two wins in that span.

He's starting and he's happy, but he also knows he has to keep working.

"I feel good and I'm back to being the gym rat that I always was and it's all paying off," Johnson said.

And this time around in London, Johnson feels very much a part of the team.

"Now it's like I'm comfortable and fitting in and it's going to be hell for everyone else who has to play against us," Johnson said. "I'm finally getting the chance I always wanted and the opportunities I always wanted and I'm not going to give it back for any reason."


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