Bulls forward Johnson looking to pattern game after Rodman

Bulls forward Alize Johnson is from a town best known for Little League Baseball.

But he says he's never played the sport. No T-ball or coach pitch. If anything, he's tried to flip Williamsport, Pa., into a basketball town by helping build NBA-sized courts at an aging park near his home.

"I love Williamsport," Johnson said Monday at the Advocate Center. "Every time I go out there, I'm playing for them and trying to show everybody that small town has some really good talent in there."

Johnson was a late addition to the Bulls' roster, signed as a free agent after he was released by Brooklyn to clear a roster spot for LaMarcus Aldridge. So far in preseason, no one has made a better first impression than Johnson.

Far from an imposing physical presence at 6-foot-7, 212 pounds, Johnson is the Bulls' leading rebounder through three games, despite averaging just 16 minutes per game. His rebounds per 48 minutes of 31.2 is best in the NBA among guys who have played in multiple preseason games.

"I'm not the biggest guy, but I've got heart," Johnson said. "That's something that has been sticking with me my whole journey. So just going out there, trying to outwork everybody on the floor, just using my motor, my quickness to an advantage."

And he picked an ideal role model, even before signing with the Bulls on Sept. 6.

"Dennis Rodman, his energy, competitiveness and just a being winner," Johnson said. "Right now I'm trying to be that. Like I said, I love rebounding."

Johnson has been playing backup center for the Bulls in preseason, with Tony Bradley sidelined by a back injury. Johnson guarded 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall late in Sunday's victory at Cleveland.

But looking at the Bulls' season overall, one concern is a lack of size on the front line. Besides the three centers, Bradley, Nikola Vucevic and Marko Simonovic, there's no one listed taller than 6-7.

That's why Johnson averaging 10.3 rebounds in limited minutes was such an eye-opener. The Bulls have plenty of scorers on this year's roster, but could use some valuable role players.

"He impacts the game in a lot of ways, whether it's on the backboard or activity with his hands defensively. He's running the floor, setting screens, rolling," coach Billy Donovan said. "He really has a great knack for the ball.

"Obviously, Rodman was as good as there ever was. I'm not comparing at all Alize to Dennis Rodman, but he does play with a motor and tries to impact the game with his energy."

Johnson, 25, is your classic late-bloomer who stood 5-9 when he started high school. When a growth spurt hit, he held onto the skills he learned playing point guard. Johnson went to junior college before spending two years at Missouri State.

Undrafted out of college, he signed with the Pacers, logged 65 games in the G-League, then produced 23 points and 15 rebounds in his Brooklyn debut last March.

Johnson is one of eight siblings. But in another unusual twist, he's the oldest of the eight. Typically it's the younger siblings who grow up facing strong competition that end up being the best athletes.

"My mom (Chanelle) did a really good job taking care of us," Johnson said. "She definitely put me to work, trying to be the man of the house, but she played her part really well."

Somehow, she also knew not to sign up Alize for Little League.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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