Braves set for a start

Joel Peterson | Bendigo Weekly | 04-Mar-2016

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Jeremy Kendle, Matt Andronicos and Damian Johnson. Photo: Andrew Perryman
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Bendigo Braves recruit Damian Johnson is no stranger to silverware, but he is determined to lead his new club to an elusive  South East Australian Basketball League title.

Johnson and fellow import Jeremy Kendle, along with big man Matt Andronicos, arrived in Bendigo last week to begin their preparation for their debut Braves campaigns.

Known league-wide simply as “DJ”, Johnson played a key role for Mount Gambier in their consecutive SEABL titles in the last two seasons, winning the SEABL Defensive Player of the Year award last season while posting some gaudy numbers.

Johnson was no stranger to coach Ben Harvey and the Braves, as the Pioneers proved the road block that stopped Bendigo from reaching the grand final last season.

So why would a player who has won two titles in a row change his allegiances to a team that he just beat on the road to a second title?

“Playing in Mt Gambier the last two years it was one of the dominant teams in the league, we only lost something like eight games in two seasons,” Johnson said.

“I was looking forward to going somewhere to get a new challenge and get a chance to go against those guys.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how much my skills have improved and see how they stand up against the best the league has to offer.”

Johnson had 20 points, 14 rebounds, seven blocks, three steals and three assists in an incredible performance to eliminate the Braves, and followed that up with 21 points, 17 boards, three assists and three blocks in the title game win over Albury Wodonga.

Johnson averaged 15.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, shot 48 per cent from the floor, but it was his defensive numbers that stand out. 

He averaged 3.8 blocks and 2.3 steals per game, and looks to combine for an imposing front court duo with Andronicos, something that will please Harvey no ends as he searches for more defensive improvement from his squad.

“Myself, Jeremy and Matt already have a good cohesion and camaraderie, we have been working out together a bit. And guys like Chris (Hogan), Kevin (Probert) and Taylor (Bell) have been here for over 300 games so its a good blend between old and new guys that I think should work pretty well,” Johnson said.

“I’ve always been one of the top defenders at every level I’ve played at, I’d rather stop my opponent and the other team from scoring that score myself, and I feel like that will work well with this group.”

Kendle shapes as being an offensive spark plug for the Braves, and nearly received a call-up to NBL club Cairns Taipans in the offseason after a standout campaign for the Toowoomba Mountaineers in the Queensland Basketball League.

He said he was led to the club by a former Braves star and another dynamic scorer, Jazzmar Ferguson.

“It just seemed like this was the best move for me long-term, I heard good things about the SEABL, the club, coach Harvey and the guys from Jazzmar,” Kendle said.

“For me it was a no-brainer coming here, it seemed like a great fit, and so far everyone has welcomed me with open arms and I’m really looking forward to the season.”

While the Braves are ready to roll, the Bendigo Lady Braves and coach Jonathan Goodman remain silent as to their plans for 2016.

The Weekly understands the club is still yet to finalise the roster  less than a month out from the season, but that Kelly Wilson and Elyse Penaluna are likely to return.

The SEABL season tips off on April 1.

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