Bryson Johnson hails from Nova Scotia and is a former professional player currently an assistant coach at the University of Vermont. He had a stellar NCAA career at Bucknell where he won 2 Patriot league titles. He had a short professional career playing in Germany for the Fraport Skyliners Juniors and also played in Canada for the Brampton A’s. He retired in 2016 and got into coaching. He was an assistant coach at Brown (NCAA) and George Mason (NCAA), graduate manager at Vermont and since 2020 an assistant coach at Vermont under head coach David Paulsen. He worked closely last season with new MHP Riesen guard Ben Shungu (188-G-1997, college: Vermont) and gave the whole truth about new MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg guard Ben Shungu.
Thanks Bryson for talking to germanhoops.com. How are you and how is basketball life treating you?
Life is treating me well. Coaching at the University of Vermont and we just came off a really fun year, winning our league and making the NCAA Tournament. Family and friends are healthy so no complaints on my end!
You had a short professional career playing for the Fraport Skyliners Juniors and in Canada. Do you sometimes think what could have been had you played longer overseas?
I had a lot of fun in Germany and back home in Canada playing. I honestly don’t think about my playing career much at all because I really love coaching and doing what I am doing now. Basketball has given me some pretty cool opportunities and continues to so no need to think in the past too much.
Your an assistant coach at Vermont (NCAA). I always find it fascinating that you see 5-7 guys on the bench all belonging to the coaching staff. What exactly are your duties?
I am an assistant coach here and specific duties can vary based on where you are. Here at Vermont everyone on staff chips in all facets to make the program successful. Our main focus is providing our players support in the classroom and on the basketball court. We do a lot of skill development, film, scouting things like that. Most importantly though build relationships with the young men in the program so they know we are here for them in all facets of life and not just basketball related.
As a former point guard I’m sure that you spent a lot of time with Ben Shungu. What kind of a coach/player relationship did you have and how intensive did you guys work together?
Benny and I grew to be close. He is such a special kid to be around with an infectious attitude that I think everyone who has one conversation with Benny thinks they are best friends hahaha. We worked together this year trying to fine tune his game and just answer any questions he might have. We spent a lot of time in the gym together but so did our whole staff. I don’t know if one coach can be in the gym with Benny as much as he wants to be in the gym. We watched a lot of film and talked a fair bit about the professional process he is going through right now. But, understand this was my first year here and the staff here at Vermont and Benny laid the foundation for his success far before I arrived. Coach Becker, Ryan Schneider, Kyle Cieplicki, Derryck O’Grady, Hamlet Tibbs, all played a far bigger role in his development then I did.
Ben Shungu has signed in German league easyCredit BBL. How happy are you for him and could you give him some advice about Germany?
I could not be more happy for Benny! He has earned everything he has received from the game of basketball. My advice would be to embrace the local culture and try to immerse yourself in it. Germany is such a great country and the people were all great. Benny has an innate ability to do this so I know he will be a fan favourite!
He had a very great career in the NCAA with Vermont (NCAA) helping win the AEC title in 2019 and 2022 and winning the MVP. When you hear the name Ben Shungu what is the first thing that you think about?
Honestly I really just think about Vermont basketball when I hear Benny’s name. He embodies the kind of young men we have had in this program. Work for everything they get, great people, no excuses and about winning. So Benny is kind of the prototype for what our program is about and luckily we have had some others that fit that same mold as well!
Is it fair to say that he took on a steady but not fast development at Vermont? He really broke out as a senior.
Again, my only experience working with Benny was this past year. But I did coach against him when I was at George Mason his sophomore year. We thought he was a good defender, a guy who would come off the bench and provide them with energy and making winning plays. In 3 years, he turned himself into one of the most efficient guards in the country. He had patience and an understanding that his time would come here and worked tirelessly to make sure he was ready for the opportunity and he definitely was!
You don’t see many graduate student athletes. Would you say his character is out of the ordinary? How would you describe his character and approach to basketball?
Benny is definitely abnormal in his approach and work ethic. He has the delicate balance of confidence in himself but extreme humility. He is essentially the mayor of Burlington and is one of the most beloved people in the city. He is just one of those guys who I will never say he can’t do something because if I do, there’s a good chance he will prove me wrong.
He is a guy that fills the stat sheet well. If you had to compare him to an NBA player who would best fit the bill?
Oh boy I’m not very good at NBA comparisons -He actually reminds me of Jrue Holiday because he is an efficient offensive player and an elite defender. Most importantly he is a winner as well.
He can score and fill up the stat sheet. What would you say are his biggest strengths on the court?
He can really shoot the ball. He has the ability to be a deadly catch and shoot player but also can create his own shot. His toughness is unmatched. Mental and physical toughness, the guy will play through injuries and is just a gamer in every sense of the word. He is also an elite on ball defender
He shot very well from outside last season. On what kind of a path do you see him going as a shooter? Did you work with him on his shot?
More of the work on his shot was done before I arrived, I really just tried to help him rep it out with the rest of our staff. He is going to be a very good shooter as a professional because if you try to take away his shot or close out to aggressively, he is too good and comfortable putting the ball down on the floor and scoring in the midrange and at the rim. Unlike some shooters, he is an elite shot maker that is not reliant on others creating for him. I think, he will have very efficient numbers from the field because of how diverse his offensive game is.
Stats don’t always tell the story of a player’s defensive qualities. Would you say his defense is still a work in progress?
No I think he is an elite defender. The only thing that hindered his defense was the burden he sometimes had to carry offensively for us this past season. He has tremendous hands, and is physically strong enough to guard bigger players. Defense in a lot of ways is about toughness and he has all that you could want.
How important was reaching the NCAA tournament for him? He recorded 20 points in a tough 75-71 loss against Arkansas?
I think it was important to him because it was important to our program. He is a team first player and I know he wanted to get together but so did everyone in our locker room. It was a great opportunity for people around the country/world to see just how good our players and team was this past season. It provided him more exposure but seeing him everyday I know how good he is.
He had many great games but was the win over UMBC in the 2022 AEC final the sweetest for him and you?
That was a really fun game and one of those moments that is culmination of all the hard work from the season. My guess is that it was the high for the season but those guys won 28 games this past year so they provided me personally with a lot of good memories.
You spent a lot of time with him. What was your fondest moment with him off the court that you will never forget?
It always goes back to the work ethic whenever I think of Benny. So the fondest memories for me are being in the gym early or late in the summer when the gym is 100 degrees. Those times are when we really got to get to know each other and it didn’t take me long to realize how special of a kid he is! Off the court though it is how he always has time for everybody! He is a genuine and sweet person off the court and absolute monster on the court. I’m telling you, Ludwigsburg is going to love this kid!
Thanks Bryson for the chat.