La Salle basketball preview: Senior scorer B.J. Johnson will be centerpiece

The La Salle Explorers (15-15, 9-9) look to build upon their 2016-17 season, where they took strides offensively but had clear inconsistencies on the defensive side of the ball.

They proved to be one of the more surprising teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference out of the gate, with an 11-5, 5-1 record and a couple impressive victories over the likes of Rhode Island and Davidson. Ending the season 4-10 was not in the plans for the Explorers and is something that the players on the team are looking to erase in a big way in the 2017-18 campaign.

Led by the dominant play of Syracuse transfer B.J. Johnson, La Salle has had the luxury of having a great player to build around. Johnson notched 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last year for the Explorers on his way to being named to the All-Philadelphia Big 5 First Team.

Entering his senior year, the lanky wing will lead the charge for the Explorers, while junior guard Pookie Powell (13.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.1 APG), senior center Tony Washington (7.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and senior guard Amar Stukes (8.1 PPG, 4.3 APG) look to show greater leadership and growth as the rest of the impact upperclassmen on the team.

“We changed our mind-set [in the offseason],” Johnson said. “We came in with a mind-set that we weren’t going to be the worst defensive team in the A-10 and one of the worst defensive teams in the country. Everything we do running-wise and conditioning-wise is based on our defensive performance.”

One of the impact players on who the team is excited about is 6-foot-10 freshman Miles Brookins. Brookins is long and could play a major impact defensively for the Explorers. He’s expected to see the floor a good amount in the early part of the season.

“He’s far more ready than we envisioned,’’ La Salle coach Giannini said. “We tell most big guys they’ll get their feet wet as freshmen and compete for a starting spot later, but he’s just way ahead of schedule. … He knows what he’s doing on the basketball court.”

La Salle opens the season on Saturday against St. Peter’s (23-13, 14-6) at Tom Gola Arena. The game will air at 3 p.m. on the A-10 Network.

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