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For Johnson, a post-college basketball education — DeCock

Former North Carolina forward Brice Johnson, right, shares a laugh with fellow Tar Heel star Harrison Barnes, on floor, after Monday's Team USA practice in Las Vegas.
Former North Carolina forward Brice Johnson, right, shares a laugh with fellow Tar Heel star Harrison Barnes, on floor, after Monday's Team USA practice in Las Vegas. ldecock@newsobserver.com

Brice Johnson is only 3 1/2 months removed from the end of his college career, falling one shot short in the national championship. Since then, he has been drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers, added to the USA Basketball Select Team and, this week, practiced and scrimmaged against the U.S. Olympic team.

It's been a long 3 1/2 months, but if Johnson needed a flashback, he need only look down the bench at Select Team assistant coach Jay Wright, last seen playing it oh so cool after his Villanova team defeated Johnson and North Carolina on Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beater.

“I've kind of forgotten about all that, I've had so many other things happen to me since then,” Johnson said. “I still think about that game, but at the end of the day I've got more important things on my plate to worry about nowadays.”

On the Select Team, Johnson is the only former Tar Heel, widely outnumbered by former Duke players. There are four practicing – Rodney Hood, Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker and Justise Winslow – and Jahlil Okafor is here as well but sitting out with an injury.

“I've got my man Harrison with me,” Johnson said, gesturing at fellow North Carolina product Harrison Barnes, getting stretched on the floor below where Johnson was sitting. Barnes, lying face down while a trainer contorted his legs, looked up with a smile and nodded.

“I'm not worried about the Duke guys,” Johnson continued. “I don't hate them. Harrison's still my guy more. We're all cool.”

Practicing alongside the Olympians like Barnes has been the best part of the experience for Johnson, He is one of only four players on the Select Team without NBA experience – he played against the other three last season: Ingram, Virginia's Malcolm Brodgon and Providence's Kris Dunn – which means he was up against a higher level of competition even before the Select Team joined the Olympians for practice.

That experience gap – and in some cases, talent gap against some of the best players in the NBA – has made this educational for Johnson, to say the least.

“It's an honor to be able to say I'm on this team after just being drafted, alongside a lot of guys who have already been in the league,” he said. “Being able to compete against the best of the best in the world, it's an honor to be able to say I'm here. ...

“These guys are really good. There's a few times I played great defense and they still made shots, even with a hand in their face. The other thing is just the physicality of it, I've got to get a lot stronger. I could get away with some things with my weight in college. Now I can't. I've got to be able to be about 230, 245 (pounds) at this point in my life. I've got to add some weight to play in this league.”

Johnson, who said he currently weighs in at 210, has some work to do in that department. It's not the only lesson he'll

ake from this week into his rookie season.

VIDEO: Watch University of North Carolina senior Brice Johnson give his senior night speech to the crowd in the Smith Center. Johnson played his last game in the Smith Center Monday night, Feb. 29, 2016.

VIDEO: University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams says he has probably pushed Brice Johnson harder than any player he has ever coached, and also talks about motivation to get to the Final Four this year.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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