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Happy Birthday, Coach Johnson.

Today is Princeton head man Sydney Johnson's birthday.

Let that serve as an excuse to scan the above image from a February 1996 program and transcribe a short feature about Johnson written during the conference portion of his junior year.

The piece by Jerry Price takes on a different light than it did when originally published knowing what was to come both the next month and a decade down the line.

There is much more to Sydney Johnson than great defense

Sydney Johnson has the ball in the frontcourt. He is thinking backdoor, but no cut is made. Instead, his pass goes harmlessly out of bounds. Turnover. The 122nd of his career.

What made this one unique? Only this: there was a 122-minute gap between turnovers No. 121 and 122 in the career of Sydney Johnson, the closest thing to a yo-yo a point guard could hope to be.

Sydney Johnson committed one turnover every 12 minutes his freshman year and one every 19 minutes his sophomore year.

This year?

"I don't know," Johnson says. "One every 10 minutes?"

Wrong. How about one every 29 minutes? For someone who almost always has the ball in his hands, Johnson almost never turns it over.

Consider as well that the four players who start alongside Johnson shoot 58% from the field, and you begin to see how valuable a point guard like Johnson can be.

"I'm not a great dribbler, and I don't have great hands," Johnson says. "I've become more conscious of my role on the team. I run the offense and get people shots. I try not to force the action. The less you turn it over, the more shots you get."

Johnson's turnover ratio is not the only thing that has improved since his freshman year. The player himself has done some growing up.

As a rookie Johnson - a four-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week - made an immediate name for himself as an outside shooter. He shot 45.% from three-point range his first year, including a 64.3% run through January that saw him win the AT&T Long Distance Award as the nation's top three-point man for the month.

Since then his three-point percentage has declined to 31.3% last year and 29.3% this year, but he has become so much better in every other area of the game.

He is perhaps the best defensive player in the Ivy League. He is also a point guard with a 2.7:1 ratio of assists to turnovers. He has 18 turnovers in 523 minutes. He has almost as many steals (17) as he does turnovers.

He averages 34.9 minutes per game and has gone 40 minutes on back-to-back nights more than once. You want him taking your big shot.

He is also Princeton's captain for the second straight year, the first junior to be a two-time captain.

"I told him before he ever came here that he would be a leader of everything that is good in this country one day," Princeton coach Pete Carril says. "He hasn't let me down at all so far."

He has already begun his assault on the Tiger record book. He enters this weekend 52nd all-time in scoring, and he is already sixth all-time in three-pointers made. He will finish his career among Princeton's leaders in steals, and he has a solid shot at 1,000 points.

"I don't think about any of that," he says. "I just think that I haven't won a single title yet, and that's what I want more than anything."

Should Princeton get that Ivy League title this year, then Johnson may have already made the most important play on that road. With Princeton already 0-1 in the league after dropping its opener to Penn, it couldn't afford to lose its second league game as well. With eight seconds to go against Yale, though, The Tigers were clinging to a one-point lead as the Bulldogs were preparing to inbound under the basket at which they were shooting.

The plan called for Gabe Hunterton - last year's Ivy League Rookie of the Year - to run off a double screen and take the shot. Johnson, though, stayed stayed with Hunterton through both screens, forcing Yale to improvise. Instead of an open shot by Hunterton, the Bulldogs were kept to a 30-foot turnaround at the buzzer, a shot which missed everything. Princeton, 56-55.

"I've been burned this year on defense, and that keeps me awake nights more than anything," Johnson says. "I want to be a stopper. I want that to be the staple of my game."

The night after the Yale game, Johnson hounded Brown's Eric Blackiston, a first-team All-Ivy League player last year, into an 0 for 9, one-point nightmare in a 64-36 Tiger win.

"Somebody reminded me before the game that he might be the best guard in the league," Johnson says. "I thought to myself, 'there's no reason why you can't shut this guy down.' Now I know there's no reason I can't do that on a consistent basis. It's all a matter of wanting it badly enough."

He certainly wants it badly enough. After two years of showing almost no emotion on the court, Johnson's pumped fists are becoming more and more routine.

"I realize that basketball isn't something I can take for granted," he says. "I'm just trying to be good at it. I've been showing my emotions more. Not in a taunting way, just in a way that helps me."

Johnson and the Tigers head into the meat of their schedule this weekend. Beginning with the Columbia game, Princeton plays 11 Ivy League games in 31 days, including five straight weekends of Friday night and Saturday night games. After this weekend there will be two home games and seven road games. It ends up March 5 at the Palestra, on the hostile court of three-time defending champion Penn.

It's certainly a test for any team, especially one that has two seniors and eight freshmen and sophomores.

"I'm enjoying being the captain," Johnson says. "The coaching staff has shown a lot of confidence in me, and they've given me a lot of responsibility. My teammates have looked to me for leadership."

The first game of Sydney Johnson's career was at La Salle. He played seven minutes. His first show was an airball; his first pass was a turnover.

"I remember that vividly," he says. "I was timid. That's why when the younger guys get down now, I often think back to that game. I know that you can get past it. That feeling will go away. You just have to work through it. I think I'm able to help them understand that. It's part of growing up. Learning from your mistakes."

Sydney Johnson is still growing up, and he is still learning from his mistakes.

Once every 29 minutes, in fact.

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