Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Flourishing friendship

Rookies Johnson, Robinson forming special bond

It hasn’t taken long for Kansas University freshman roommates Elijah Johnson, front, and Thomas Robinson to develop a true friendship. Johnson explained that while he recovered from a summer knee surgery, Robinson made a constant effort to help him out.

It hasn’t taken long for Kansas University freshman roommates Elijah Johnson, front, and Thomas Robinson to develop a true friendship. Johnson explained that while he recovered from a summer knee surgery, Robinson made a constant effort to help him out.


Key stats

Here are a few numbers for both rookies from their senior years in high school:

Elijah Johnson: 15.9 ppg., 3.9 apg.

(Las Vegas Cheyenne High)

Thomas Robinson: 16 ppg., 13 rpg., 5 blocks per game.

(Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H)

Elijah Johnson found it difficult to traverse Kansas University’s hilly campus after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on June 23.

He leaned on a buddy — freshman basketball teammate and roommate Thomas Robinson — for support.

“There was a lot of stuff I couldn’t do because I couldn’t move like a normal person at a normal pace. Thomas pretty much took care of me those two to three weeks it took to get back to normal,” said Johnson, a 6-foot-2 combo guard from Las Vegas.

“He made sure we were on time to class. If I wanted something to eat and didn’t feel like walking downstairs to get in the car — or sit awkwardly in the car driving to the place and taking 30 minutes to walk into the restaurant — he’d say, ‘I’ll pick you up something. What do you have a taste for?’’’ Johnson added.

Robinson, who first met — and roomed with — Johnson at the Reebok All America Game last April in Washington, D.C., moved into a Jayhawker Towers apartment with Johnson just 10 days before Johnson’s surgery.

The 6-foot-9 power forward from Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., had no hesitation in assisting his new pal.

“I knew his injury was kind of serious where he couldn’t walk around. I’m there, so I helped him,” Robinson said. “We have a close bond.”

Robinson, who grew up on the East coast (Washington, D.C.) and Johnson both the Midwest (Gary, Ind.) and West (Vegas), do not keep track of which roomie is ahead in the favors department.

“Every day we do stuff for each other, even the smallest stuff. We always take care of each other,” Johnson said, adding, “What’s mine is his. What’s his is mine, whether it be food, DVD player, whatever. We don’t have to ask each other for permission.

“We hang out a lot. For the most part, if you see Thomas, you’ll probably see me. You see me, you’ll probably see him.”

Robinson said the friendship hasn’t been one-sided.

“Elijah thinks ahead of things as far as keeping the apartment straight, what homework we’ve got to do,” said Robinson, who is enrolled in 12 hours of coursework with Johnson this semester.

“He’s always mapping out something that’ll make it easier for us.”

Some of KU’s returning players have taken it upon themselves to help the two rookies adjust to college.

Robinson — who has bulked from 219 pounds to 235 since arriving on campus in late May — has been mentored by sophomore big man Markieff Morris.

“He’s been like my big brother. He’s pretty much taken me under his wing,” Robinson said. “I have a tendency of moving too fast. He’ll slow me down, tell me what to do, how to do it the right way. He’ll fill me in on what I should expect, what not to do so I don’t get in trouble, stuff like that.”

Johnson — who was cleared for full physical activity two weeks ago — has been tutored by sophomore guard Tyshawn Taylor.

“Tyshawn’s only been here a year, but the small stuff he picked up in a year he’s helping me with already, like attacking and being aggressive,” Johnson said.

“He told me it’s going to get hard, real hard, and there will be a point where I don’t feel like playing basketball and that will be my test. He said, ‘As crazy as that might sound, you are going to see what I mean one day.’ When he said that he kind of gave me a look. I keep picturing that look every time I think about the season.”

Johnson and Robinson say they appreciate the help of their new teammates, but frankly haven’t found the overall adjustment to college too difficult yet.

“Going to prep school helped a lot. I grew up so much last year,” Robinson said. “Academically it’s tougher, but as far as me knowing how to prepare for it, I wouldn’t say hard at all. I learned time management at prep school,” added Robinson, who checks in with his mom, Lisa, and 6-year-old sister, Jayla Paris, via phone once a day.

Johnson — he calls his dad, Marcus, in Vegas at least every other day and mom, Yolanda, in Indiana regularly as well — said his schedule is such there’s no time to slack off.

“It’s pretty much the same as high school. There’s just no babying around. You take your own notes and get to class on your own,” Johnson said, explaining his and Robinson’s routine is, “getting up every day at 7. Going to class at 8. After our class schedule is finished, there’s something we have to do — whether working out, lifting weights, playing some ball, tutoring. By then it’s 7 at night.

“It’s not really tiring. It’s a mental thing about not being lazy. We have a schedule, basically a work schedule, so it’s like, ‘Welcome to adulthood,’’’ Johnson added.

Johnson and Robinson have received a quick education on the court.

They are amazed at the talent coach Bill Self and his assistants have assembled for the 2009-10 season.

“It’s crazy,” Robinson said. “Everybody is so competitive in pick-up because we all want to win. We’re competitive in everything. We can get in a shoe-tying contest and be competitive.

“We have this little machine in the weight room — a dancing-type machine where we have to move our feet on a pad. Wherever the dot lights up, your foot has to be on a spot on the mat. It’s for quickness. We’ll spend 30 minutes on it trying to beat each other.”

Noted Johnson: “Every day there’s a new best player (in pick-up). There’s not one person who comes in the gym and does the same thing every day. When you win, the next day somebody will remember that from the day before and say, ‘That’s not going to happen again.’’’

Johnson and Robinson remain hopeful they can contribute meaningful minutes amid KU’s ultra-talented mix.

“I will work so hard. I know I’ll work to the point where I think I deserve playing time,” said Robinson, who practices with both the big men and perimeter players in individual workouts.

“We have so many players that can do more than one thing. I won’t worry about that (minutes). I’ll do what I’m asked,” added Robinson, who averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks last season at prep school.

Johnson — he said he’d prefer to not red-shirt — is open to minutes large or small.

“This might sound a little weird ... minutes mean something to me, but don’t mean as much to me as people probably think,” said Johnson, who averaged 15.9 points and 3.9 assists his senior season at Cheyenne High.

“This is a year I really want to learn so I am moreso watching Tyshawn and Sherron’s (Collins) every move to see what they do wrong I don’t do wrong. This is a learning year for me more than a minutes year. If coach told me at the beginning of the season he’d play me 30 seconds every game, I better make the most of those 30 seconds.”

Junior center Cole Aldrich believes both are capable of producing.

“Elijah can really handle the ball. He’s so athletic,” Aldrich said. “He reminds me of Mario (Chalmers) a little bit, but also has a little streetball swagger to him.”

Aldrich has already had some intense inside battles for position versus Robinson.

“He is athletic, has a great body to him. He can step out and hit a good 15-, 17-foot jumper,” Aldrich said. “There are little things he’ll start to learn of how to use it (body) and when to use it in different ways. Once he learns that, he’ll be really tough,” Aldrich said, adding that the best thing about Robinson is “his willingness to do the things he needs to do and listen.”

Robinson and Johnson are obviously willing to listen to KU’s veterans.

“Cole is an artist at what he does down low. When it comes to footwork, he’s the real deal,” Robinson said. “He is a big role model for me. Things started out slow for him, now he’s a future lottery pick. Why not try to model that person’s game?

“I feel Cole and Sherron are at the point they can turn it on whenever they want. They can turn it on and there’s no stopping them.”

Just as there’s no way of slowing Johnson and Robinson’s budding friendship.

“Since the start, we’ve been beside each other,” Johnson said.


JayhawkParadise 10 years, 6 months ago

I couldn't have asked for a better article to start the delayed work week.

Talk about maturity. Our young guys understand delayed gratification and what it takes to become the ultimate team while furthering their individual games.

Talent + depth + selflessness + Self = another proud year for us Jayhawk faithful.

Scott MacWilliams 10 years, 6 months ago

Great article, Gary. Sounds like these kids complement each other very well, just the kind of thoughtful, talented and competitive players you need to build a great team.

Now I'm waiting for the First Annual Jayhawk Shoe Tying Contest!! Maybe we should start drafting the rules here? Do they start with their shoes off? Do they have to be double-knotted? Can they use any shoe they want? Do they get points for style?

Rock Chalk ShoeHawks!!

Michael Auchard 10 years, 6 months ago

These guys sound very mature for 18 year-olds. Awesome.

Derek Conway 10 years, 6 months ago

It's always nice to hear great things about our teams chemistry. Great Article! Keep up the good work men!

waywardJay 10 years, 6 months ago

these two are the cornerstones of our next two championships after this year ;)... all reports say that thomas robinson has no shot.... his offensive game is incredibly raw..... Cole just said Robinson has range out to 15-17 from the basket..... Apparently, he learns REALLY Quickly. Honestly, I take Cole's word for it.

As for Elijah, ELijah's a beast man...... next year when he gets to play finally, we start two point guards for sure next year in elijah and Tyshawn ( unless ty goes pro )... maybe even three if we start CJ next year also....

Ej, CJ, Tyshawn Marcus and Withey ?

that's some atheleticism there....

Aligned 10 years, 6 months ago

Well done, Gary. That was a very enjoyable read. I do hope you have more of these stories planned.

As for Thomas and Elijah; welcome to the big time. We're all looking forward to seeing you develop here at KU.

Joe Baker 10 years, 6 months ago

Good stuff! I can't say enough about the maturity these guys bring to the team. Great recruiting by HCBS and CO. Their talent will be outstanding, especially after this first year.


boomrsoonr26 10 years, 6 months ago

I know Xavier will be the star of the freshman class, but these guys sound like dudes I can get behind. I dont enjoy the one n' done show, but I love the quiet rookies that end up sticking around for 4 years and earning the ultimate respect of Jayhawk faithful.

Dont let the name fool you, I am not an OU fan! Thats simply the name of our plane given by our co-pilot, the stupid Okie tard, but I've been pushing for that to change to Rock Chalky 26 immediately. I'm surrounded by idiots (3 from crew are Okies)!

Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

craigers 10 years, 6 months ago

Talk about getting your basketball blood pumping. Looking forward to watching these guys! It's great seeing raw talent develop!

chicagoeddie 10 years, 6 months ago

Great article Gary, now im pumped up for work! hhahaah

rock chalk!

KUPROUD 10 years, 6 months ago

Wow! I was being very patient waiting for October, enjoying the football season. Now you have me so anxious for basketball I'm going to take a cold shower. ROCKCHALK

hawk316 10 years, 6 months ago

What a great article, Gary! I love these in-depth pieces that give us a window into the lives and personalities of the players.

And what an impressive couple of young men! Wow. I love their attitude, maturity, teachability and hunger. I really appreciated Elijah's comment, "this is a learning year for me more than a minutes year." This kid has his head screwed on right (as does Robinson).

Congratulations to Bill Self and his staff on recruiting young men who are more than just great athletes, but are also great people. Folks, we are so blessed. Enjoy these times at KU. They are indeed very special.

jaybate 10 years, 6 months ago

Music to my ears!

A 15-17' J!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Combine this guy's dominant build with cruise missile floor speed, Saturn V vertical thrust, and that touch, and we've got another future lottery pick. This man will beast his sophmore season, while Marcus is playing the three. Shades of Juju and Brandon.

I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm actually looking past this season's potentially incredible team. Robinson/Withey at 4, Marcus at three and Kieff/Payne at the 5, and Brady, Tyrel, CJ, Elijah, Travis, Royce Woolridge, Harrison Barnes, and Bradley Beale? That team could give this years fabulous line up a run for its money!!!

At this rate, soon the only way for Tobacco Road to derail the Jayhawk Juggernaut and regain the summit will be for MJ to hire Self for Charlotte, for Duke to put Mike K to pasture and hire Joe Dooley, and for Dean to send Roy back to KU to recruit only half the country, and hire Danny to run Chapel Hole.

The mythical bird is angry about letting Roy have a second ring.

The mythical bird is angry about Roy's failure to genuflect toward Lawrence once more after winning his ring last year with 38 year old Psycho T (wasn't he there ten years or so?).

The mythical bird wants to be a hegemond and reassert the order.

There is once again a thundering heard across the plains and it ain't buffalo.

Its KU under Self!!!!!

Self rules!

mandomax 10 years, 6 months ago

On another note, lets all psychically wish HCBS luck on his in-home with Josh Selby tomorrow. Selby is a great combo guard who could help us immensely at the one or two if TT leaves after his soph or junior campaign. Selby and EJ would provide a deadly quick backcourt.

waywardJay 10 years, 6 months ago

hey jaybate... it takes 30 some years to craft a ball player from a muckabout.... anusburro was there for only 4 years.... but it was for years spent building a mountain from a molehill..... you see, in all those 4 years..... what did he develop as his game....

*crickets chirping while im trying to figure it out *

He became a champion at the end ???

Self is on pace to be the IT coach for a very very very long time.... all he has to do is ...well in the words of AL davis...WIn baby, Win.

VegasJhawk09 10 years, 6 months ago

2 months and counting till the first KU game. When's their bootcamp start?

KULA 10 years, 6 months ago

What a great article! Makes me long for those halcyon days of youth, starting your first year at the University of Kansas, first time away from home, the whole world open before you... excuse me while I brush away a melancholy tear for remembrance of things past...

OK, I've regained my composure and my cheer for the future thinking about how F'ING good we're gonna be this year!!! And I LOVE what Thomas said about Elijah--“He’s always mapping out something that’ll make it easier for us.” Sounds like the kid has the mindset of a real playmaker! Can't wait to see these kids on the court this year!

Jaminrawk 10 years, 6 months ago

These guys remind me of Russ Rob, Kaun and D-Jax. Solid recruits coming in w/o much fanfare but they compete, listen to HCBS and help each other out. You HAVE to have these guys as the foundation of any good team. The superstars (X. Henry) don;t stick around long but guys like Johnson and Thomas will grow in the program and be great players by the time they are juniors.

Hawkaholic22 10 years, 6 months ago

Great article gary,

These two are going to be solid cornerstones for KU in the next couple of years. EJ's athleticism and TR's rebounding and physicality are going to be huge this year! Anyone see either of these two starting later on in the year, or coming off the bench? I'd say coming off the bench, but at times last year we could have used someone with the incredible motor and will of Robinson.

waywardJay 10 years, 6 months ago

Robinson has been my darkhorse player all year long..... he screams DJACK to me..... he does.... of course he has a long way to go to get that sort of full on comparison.... But i think he willget minutes..... and he will make solid contributions out there....

Part of me just wants self to just play everyone in a whirling dervish of AWESOMENESS...... everyone plays their max for 5 minutes spurts.... comes a new line.... just to see what would happen..... full press all the time..... aggressive balls to the wall defense..... ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK.

Somethign would tell me it's insanity.... but with this kind of depth and talent.... how else are you going to get them all on the court

Dirk Medema 10 years, 6 months ago

They are both reminding me a bit of Cole - really good, if not great players, with loads of potential, learning from a truck load of talented (NBA-able) players. I can see them going from a few minutes a game this year, with a few great performances when foul trouble dictates, to dominance in '10-'11 when the next group of draftees goes pro.

This should be a great year (in FB & BB), and leave us with tons to look forward to as well.

Buck08 10 years, 6 months ago

Good relationship off the floor leads to a good combination on the floor...

Can anyone stand the way jaybate tries to sound so intelligent? I can't....

Dillon Davis 10 years, 6 months ago

Yeah jaybate ENOUGH WITH THE ESSAY LONG RESPONSES! Get to the point. Shorten it up.

And on a happier note, it looks like we have another Kirk and Nick on our hands. E.J & TRob are gona be great.

kvskubball 10 years, 6 months ago


I think you have a reasonable comparison there, in Kirk 'n Nick and EJ 'n TRob. If the latter two develop to being close to the first two, the competition is going to be whining for years to come!

David Howell 10 years, 6 months ago

I am glad everything is rosy in Lawrence ! Hopefully the Henrys are acclimating themselves just as easily .............

Do we have any Lawrence citizens reading ? I think we all would kill just to see some streaming video posted of a couple of workout and scrimmage sessions. Self may not like it but we all would.

Martin Rosenblum 10 years, 6 months ago

Nick Krug has obviously had a divine intervention in his artistic and interpretive skill levels. Whatever inspiration has taken him over has even more defined him as a photographer far past any other sports photographer I've seen.

Anybody can, with the right equipment and a lot of luck, capture sports action and cookie-cutter stock photos on the court or field. It takes an artist to compose and interpret a theme or concept to the point that it appears that in this form of journalism, the picture appears to have inspired the story. That's something you can't be taught.

We're lucky to have him and look forward to following his ascension. I would buy a book of his photos if it were available.

Doug LeMoine 10 years, 6 months ago

What if they publish a book of Nick Krug photos, BUT it includes a nude photo of Jaybate? ... Would you buy it, or would you wait for the later edition with the photo of Jaybate wearing a Speedo with the words "OKIE BALL" inscribed across the rear?

lee3022 10 years, 6 months ago

First to boomrsoonr26 - thank you for serving our country. You drive one of those honkers and its all good no matter what the name.

I echo the thanks, Gary, for a feel-good, behind the scenes look at two of our freshmen. The excitement is so high here with the coming years. It is beyond this year we cannot help but look as one of Coach Self's strategic points is to keep recruiting competitors who can push each other to greatness as well as players who want to be here as students and enjoy the experience for several years. Foundational.

We don't seem to talk much about the unsung heroes returning and ready to be a force as well this year. Guys like Reed, Theahan, Morningstar, Releford and Little. You guys are not forgotten and will be essential this year. I remember how Russell Robinson was forgotten after a slow freshman year but was the glue to carry us for the next three years. You're called heroes because what you do is beyond the call of fame and fortune and you sacrifice your own desires for the good of the team. I hope and expect to see each of you in key moments throughout the coming season. Thank you.

KU1992 10 years, 6 months ago

First of all. great article.

Secondly, if you are new to the comment section get used to Jaybate's essays. He is the big cheese of this comment board.

Thirdly, These guys are top twenty five recruits. They have some serious talent. I have total confidence in predicting Coach Manning will turn Robinson into a lottery just like Cole. And Johnson was more highly rated out of high school than Tyshawn... so i can't imagine anything less.

And oh yeah. These kids oose maturity.

KGphoto 10 years, 6 months ago

Bravo memhawk.

Bravo jb.

willie, I don't like where your heads at.

jaybate 10 years, 6 months ago


Speaking with insider knowledge, I would wait for the Speedo with the Okie Baller on the back. Well, actually, I would wait one more version and get the Speedo specially tailored for jaybate in front that says in vertical lettering "Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, Okie Baller." :-)

jchief40 10 years, 6 months ago

Great article Gary - really.

I am so proud to be a Jayhawk fan right now. We've had some great coaches here at KU but I truly believe Self has done the unthinkable and taken this program to even greater heights. The sky truly is the limit now for this year and into the future. What a class act Self is. He has great assistant coaches around him as well. And it sounds like Johnson and Thomas are gonna be great kids for us.

I also can't say enough about Mangino and the KU football team. I am so excited for this season.

It's no longer just a basketball school - when people around the country think "Kansas" I hope they immediately think "Elite Powerhouse".

Rock Chalk Nation

jaybate 10 years, 6 months ago

For Buck.00008,

Now don't speed read that Buckster. Savor it.

Martin Rosenblum 10 years, 6 months ago

Does anybody know the process of roomate assignments for first year players? It's obviously working with Mr. Robinson and Mr. Johnson, as this article describes.

There have been some pairs that sound completely natural. There have been some that sounded like disaster waiting to happen. Maybe opposites attract in some worlds, but is there some wisdom in this process or is it all guesswork?

Oh yeah, williepless - No, I wouldn't buy a Nick Krug book with photos of JB or anybody in a Speedo (unless they appeared in the Girls of KU calendar or SI swimsuit edition). I would volunteer to edit his book, however, just with his sports photos. .

mjlindsm 10 years, 6 months ago

So these two are living together, hoopin' together, and taking the same classes? Yeesh. I can't imagine even being around my wife that long, let alone anyone else.

waywardJay 10 years, 6 months ago

Well.... who knows.... Elijah could b an excellent cook....and trob a Glorious entertainer.... they could be peas and carrots.....

I think it's good they getalong so well... it's better than the opposite.... say rooming Connor teahan and X henry .....

waywardJay 10 years, 6 months ago

No braces needing to b removed for sure ;)

Tony Bandle 10 years, 6 months ago

As I've been telling you folks for almost a year, Thomas Robinson is something special;

The Lane will become Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood.

He will be the King of the Carom, the Black Hole of the Bouncing Ball, the Astound of the Rebound, the T-Rex of the Riccochet, the Master of the Missed Shot.

He will be Dennis Rodman without the piercings, the weirdness and the dress.

He will be part of the KU Shock troops that come in after the regulars have weakened the opposition and will proceed to administer a 'Proper Beatin""

If nothing else, the Twins will see that big body on the bench and know that "play your a$$ off or sit your a$$ down!!!!

Buck08 10 years, 6 months ago

jaybate - you like basketball?....ok congratulations .... uhh ... i will definitely savor it for you ok pal....

jaybate 10 years, 6 months ago


Savor away, and that's Mr. Pal, to you. ;-)

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