QUINCY -- Marsalis Johnson didn't necessarily need to return to California to finish his collegiate basketball career.
"I don't mind traveling around the U.S.," the 6-foot-8 forward said.
Yet, Quincy wasn't the kind of place he envisioned he'd be.
Johnson, a junior college transfer who is starting for the Quincy University men's basketball team, grew up in North Hills, Calif., which is part of Los Angeles. He played his freshman season at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, then transferred to Northeastern College in Sterling, Colo.
Although Northeastern is in a small community -- Sterling has a population of about 15,000 and is two hours from Denver -- it is located on Interstate 76, which takes away some of the small-town feel.
Quincy is triple the size of Sterling, but vastly different in landscape.
"Yeah, it's definitely a shock for me," Johnson said. "But I'm getting myself used to it."
That's starting to show on the court.
Johnson recorded his first double-double last Saturday with 19 points and 11 rebounds in the 92-81 overtime loss at William Jewell. It was the third time in the last four games he has scored in double figures, and he's shooting 77.4 percent from the field in that span.
Overall, he's shooting 71.1 percent from the field, which would be leading the Great Lakes Valley Conference if he qualified for the stat leaders.
Players must average five made field goals per game to be among the league's statistical leaders. Johnson is averaging four, but that's trending upward along with his minutes. He averaged 13 minutes in the first three games, but has played an average of 19.5 minutes the last four.
"It took him a couple weeks to get his feet under him," QU coach Ryan Hellenthal said. "To his credit, he's come here and worked hard every day. His demeanor, body language, confidence level has improved 180 degrees since he stepped foot on our campus.
"He's a lot more sure of himself and he's becoming a low post presence for us."
That's true at both ends of the floor.
"I almost like him defensively more than I do offensively right now," Hellenthal said. "He gives us a different look in regards to a rim protector.
Johnson had five blocked shots at Missouri Western, 10 blocks in the last four games and 11 overall.
That shouldn't be too much of a surprise for a player named the defensive MVP of his high school team.
"Defense is something we definitely need," Johnson said. "I do realize there aren't that many shot blockers here in our group, so I pretty much have to take a step forward to get as many blocked shots as I can for the team.
"Also from the defensive perspective, I have to protect the rim at all costs. There are going to be times we get beat off the dribble and there has to be a second line defender to help them out. We have to help each other out."
That's the only way the Hawks (1-6) find a way to win in the clutch.
They've lost twice by two points, once in overtime and had opportunities late in the second half of other games to have success.
"I think we're two to three stops away," Hellenthal said. "We'll continue to emphasize getting stops at the end of games and staying engaged for 40 minutes and doing the job there. We have to have guys make some plays down the stretch, too."
The more confident the Hawks get, the more likely that is to happen.
Johnson is proof of that.
"I'm definitely starting to get myself more comfortable," Johnson said. "I'm getting myself used to the system, how everything works. I feel good about things."