CINCINNATI -- The way Kevin Johnson sees it, this has been his best season in a University of Cincinnati basketball uniform.
It's not just that the 6-foot-3 senior guard has been productive offensively, although it's true he's averaging more points (8.8) than any other year. And his defense has always been strong.
"I feel like this year, it's more about leading my team as well," Johnson said.
Johnson hopes to parlay those strides into his most memorable finish at UC, including his first win in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout. He recently answered nine questions about the rivalry, hoops and more.
Xavier has won the last three Shootouts. What would it mean for you to win your last one?
KJ: It will be a great capping stone for me. I can definitely say that. And just for our team, it's going with our mission. It's another great team, a lot of great players, great fan base … it'll just be everything for my senior season. Plus, like you said, I've never technically gotten a win against Xavier. With that being said, I've got one more chance to make it happen for my senior season and go out with a bang.
As someone that grew up in Cincinnati, does the Shootout mean more to you?
KJ: I try not to take it so personally. At the end of the day I want to win the game regardless of whether we're playing Northern Kentucky or Xavier. It's not more of an, 'Alright, let's beat Xavier.' It's a good game against a good team, a very intense game, and that's what I enjoy really about basketball itself. So it's not personal. I just always want to win, want to do well. I want my team to do well and come out with a (win) so we can continue on our mission.
Coach Mick Cronin calls you UC's best defender, especially on the perimeter. How can that help in the Shootout?
KJ: It'll really decide our fate, to be honest. Keeping (Xavier) out of the lane, us defending and making them take tough shots will really depend how the game will go for us defensively. That's a big part of what we try to do and take away from every team. Xavier, in particular, they have three really good perimeter guards. Not just me but all our perimeter guards have got to come to play and come to defend and make it a tough match-up for them.
Was there a point in your career when you made the decision to be more defensive-minded?
KJ: Not necessarily. It's more of a pride thing. I just don't like my man to score on me a lot of times. That's always been with me through high school, through amateur ball. But here at Cincinnati, that's what we're known for. We're known for being physical and having players that love to play defense, block shots and run. And so that's just a thing that came from me, from Coach Cronin and from our program itself. I've just been able to exercise my body and actually become a great defender -- an on-ball defender more than anything, learning how to stay in front and shuffle my feet.
What's the best lesson you've learned from Coach Cronin?
KJ: Learning how to fight through adversity. Blocking out people, fans. Being from here sometimes people think it can be a lot of pressure. Just blocking everything out and enjoying the experience, enjoying the game, always getting better, working out and just playing. That's one thing Coach Cronin encourages with us -- don't worry about everything else. Don't look at this game so personally because it's Xavier. Let's play. Let's continue our mission. This is more about us than anyone else.
After being highly recruited at Summit Country Day, you chose to stay home to play college ball. Knowing what you do now, would you make that same decision?
KJ: Definitely. I definitely enjoy this place, just not only for athletics. Academically, meeting a lot of people in life that always have your back and just understanding I was able to grow with my family. Being so close, you get to grow as a unit. I watched my parents grow with the support they give me through basketball and just being able to understand life as I go through this journey as well. I would definitely, definitely do this again and I would choose Cincinnati over and over again. It's a great place, a great environment and a great program. I love the tenacity our coach brings every day. It just fits me.
What's the best game in your UC career?
KJ: This year there have been a lot of great moments. But I'll have to say, to be honest, one of the craziest games -- and we lost it -- was last year's UConn game with the four overtimes. That was a tough one, but that was a crazy game. And to be honest, the Shootouts every year have been crazy, too. This year, for it to be at home … I haven't experienced one at home since my sophomore year. It'll be nice to be back here this year. It's the last year before they renovate (the arena) as well. So it'll just stand for a lot more than just a game.
Your major is criminal justice. What are your post-college plans?
KJ: I'll definitely try to play basketball professionally. That'll be the next step. After playing a pro career, when I finally have to hang my shoes up, I really don't know what I want to do. There are a couple things I'm interested in. Fashion is a hobby of mine, and just business with my dad (Kevin Johnson Sr.) -- he does constructing and landscaping. So just figuring it out, seeing what I might want to invest in one day.
What do you like about fashion?
KJ: Outside of sports and school, I just like to get involved in the business of fashion and doing a little design, too -- mixing and matching different materials and keeping up with the ways of fashion and learning the industry. It's a very tough industry, but it's just a hobby of mine that I enjoy. I've always had a family that's into clothing and each year I change up my style and what's going on. Even with basketball, fashion is hand-in-hand nowadays with the Westbrook stuff and people coming in dress-up suits. It's a little thing I like to do.