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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Keegan

Elijah Johnson shores up point for KU men’s basketball

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self

Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 70-66 victory over Missouri on March 5, 2011.

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— Looking more than ever like a not-ready-for-prime-time freshman, Kansas University guard Josh Selby couldn’t stop himself from either throwing it to the Missouri bench or dribbling it out of bounds. He tallied three turnovers in seven minutes. The team’s five best players — Marcus and Markieff Morris, Tyrel Reed, Thomas Robinson and Brady Morningstar — combined for 20 turnovers.

For sloppy stretches in Saturday’s first half in Mizzou Arena, Kansas played so wildly it looked as if even the inevitable domination of the interior by the twins and Robinson might not compensate for the way the nation’s second-ranked team surrendered the basketball at such an alarming rate.

Early in the midst of all that craziness, sophomore point guard Elijah Johnson could be seen throwing up into a lined garbage can behind the KU bench. Not even two weeks ago, such a sight might have elicited a response from Kansas-backers of, “Oh.” Now it merits an “Oh, no!”

By not trying to advertise his value with look-at-me plays, Johnson has become that valuable to Kansas that quickly. The same player who until Tyshawn Taylor was suspended Feb. 21 for two games for violating a team rule was known best for his spectacular dunks has established himself as the team’s starting point guard. He’s done that by understanding his offensive role is to keep the ball moving so that the defense slips into catch-up mode and leaves one of Johnson’s teammates with a high-percentage shot. And he’s done it by knowing his defensive assignment calls for stopping the ball and preventing the opposition from getting good shots.

Johnson’s hurling problems proved short-lived, and he returned to the court to help KU end Mizzou’s 17-game home-court winning streak with a 70-66 victory.

“Just had a little phlegm in my throat, and I just got to gagging and couldn’t stop, that’s all,” Johnson explained.

The Missouri pressure defense played a role in KU’s 24 turnovers, eating at the players’ concentration to the extent they made several unforced errors. But it certainly wasn’t the cause of Johnson’s gagging. He did all of that off the court, leaning over a garbage can.

Johnson had a calming influence. He played 26 minutes and didn’t turn it over once. Early returns on the impact of Taylor’s two-game suspension: It made both Johnson and Taylor better.

Taylor has been back two games and has played well in both. He had just one turnover, had three assists and played strong defense before fouling out after 17 minutes of action.

The way Johnson has played in his four starts, Taylor no longer gets minutes by default. He has to earn them. Selby’s regression makes it imperative Taylor and Johnson both produce consistently.

“It was fun,” Johnson said of facing the Tigers’ pressure. “That was my first time in Mizzou actually getting to play. Last year, I got in with about a minute to go.”

Johnson didn’t gripe during a freshman season in which he totaled just 151 minutes of playing time in a 33-3 season and didn’t grouse when limited to singe-digit minutes in the two games leading up to Taylor’s suspension.

Sure, Johnson wanted to play more, but he didn’t go public with any negative language, of the spoken or body variety. Players at all levels who believe they should be playing would do well to follow Johnson’s advice on how to stay tuned in so that when the opportunity arrives they can capitalize on it.

“Honestly, just follow your heart,” he said. “Your mind is going to mess with you sometimes. You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to think, but you’ve got to follow your heart. You just have to be confident. You can’t give in. You can’t give in. You can’t. You do, you might as well quit. You quit one time, you’ll start quitting everything.”

The Tigers should have quit chucking threes, but their other options weren’t as attractive as KU’s.

Kansas made just two of seven three-pointers, Missouri three of 23. The biggest difference in the teams: The Tigers need to hit from long range to win. Teams that go 29-2 in the regular season and 14-2 in the Big 12 don’t do so without consistency. Teams that score most of their points from the inside aren’t as prone to scoring droughts.

“Definitely that plays a big part in it,” Johnson said. “We don’t have to hit threes. We can go inside. We actually should go inside first every time.”

Johnson’s first bucket came from inside, more precisely from above the rim. Not many team run set plays that result in the power forward tossing a lob for a point guard to throw down the slam, but that’s what Kansas coach Bill Self called for the bucket Johnson threw down on a lob pass from Marcus Morris to make the score 5-0.

“I enjoy it every time,” Johnson said of getting that play call from the bench.

It’s a nice reward for him spending most of his time feeding the most efficient scorers, Marcus and Markieff Morris.

Johnson’s head definitely is in the right place, and he has embraced the leadership duties required of a point guard. For example, when Robinson began dominating in the second half with repeated put-backs, he became a tad too celebratory.

“I had to calm him down at one point,” Johnson said of Robinson. “We kind of got into it on the floor, then I had to calm him down. He was telling me, ‘Let me play. Let me play.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but you can’t overstep the boundaries because when you do that, you step on the referees’ toes, and they come back to the whole disrespect thing on the floor.’”

Johnson said at other times he tries to ignite more emotional play from teammates. How?

“I kind of rile people up saying things they aren’t used to hearing to get them to play,” Johnson said.

The big men, particularly Marcus Morris and Robinson, won this one. Yet another late clutch three-point shot from Tyrel Reed didn’t hurt. And Johnson and Taylor helped to win it by not losing it. That’s all this team needs from its point guards.

Comments

Funhawk 3 years, 9 months ago

Did you see Elijah always grinning on the court? He's having fun. Whenever you see Elijah, the twins, or Josh grinning, you want to laugh, too. As long as Hawks keep grinning on the court, they'll stay loose, have fun, and continue winning.

actorman 3 years, 9 months ago

I think it's awesome that EJ is not afraid to say things to the other players. One thing that's often seemed to be missing this year is that kind of leadership on the floor, so it's great that EJ is embracing that part of his role.

Kye Clark 3 years, 9 months ago

EJ has been great, but Selby's regression is problematic. Our perimeter players are all good players, but they are all good as compliments to the Twins; they are good because of them. If we run into an opponent who can shut down the Twins - we've seen it twice already this year, along with a couple more times for a half or more - we have no one on the perimeter to carry the team for long stretches. Selby could have been that guy, but really you'd have to say we're past that point now. With all that has happened - the suspension, the injury, the obvious frustration & difficulties of playing out of position off the ball - it is hard to envision Selby getting back into a groove. Especially now that his play is causing him a reduction of court time.

tahawk81 3 years, 9 months ago

Couldn't agree more. We need one perimeter player to be able to carry us when the twins are off. Its going to happen at least once in the tourney and im not sure we have that guy.

Gregor Southard 3 years, 9 months ago

You mean like Reed, Morningstar, Johnson, and Taylor who can hit 3s consistently? Lighten up. 29-2 isn't the edge of disaster.

Hank Cross 3 years, 9 months ago

What was last year's record before the UNI game?

Gregor Southard 3 years, 9 months ago

tell you what, you two continue to be pessimists. I'm going to enjoy the ride

Hank Cross 3 years, 9 months ago

Agree with ict. I've been saying all season that this year has been all about the twins and we will go as far as they can carry us. If they get shut down, the season will likely end that day. Given Self's comment that Selby was the only player who could create his own shot, I had hoped that he could've been that one player that would prevent an opponent from totally focussing on the twins. Now that doesn't appear to be the way the season is playing out.

Tyrel and Brady score when the defense breaks down, they don't break down the defense. Tyrel can hit key shots, but he hasn't shown that he can carry the offense on possession after possession basis in a tight game.

It would've been nice to have had Travis as a slashing threat, but that obviously not in the cards.

Kye Clark 3 years, 9 months ago

I should have refreshed to see you making much the same points I was, about the Twins and last year's record.

Kye Clark 3 years, 9 months ago

nashhawk - please read the post. You're absolutely right that we have guys capable of hitting 3s (although including Taylor in that group throws the credibility of your whole post into question). The problem is they are largely dependent on the Twins being a dominant presence. We saw yesterday that even when the perimeter players are struggling to score our inside play can carry the scoring load and lead us to victory. Can you name one game this year where the situation is reversed? Where the inside game had disappeared and our outside shooting bailed us out? I can name one...against USC. Who bailed us out? Josh Selby. 21 points off the bench. That's it. So hitting 3s consistently is nice, but is there great confidence in any of our perimeter players at this point to take over the game and go for 20 when we need them? I don't have that level of confidence. We will go as far as the post play can carry us.

You say 29-2 isn't the edge of disaster. 29-2 is in fact a great regular season. But come the NCAA tournament, it doesn't matter what your record is. Every game is the edge of disaster. Last year's team was 29-2 at this point as well. I'm still hopeful, still think we have a good shot to reach Houston. However I'm also bracing myself for the possibility of another let-down by not turning a blind eye to a glaring weakness.

86finalfour 3 years, 9 months ago

Elijah carries himself well -- i think the jayhawk nation can see that.

He has a calming effect indeed. His stats aren't that much better than Taylor's but in the "watch test," the team looks more controlled out there when the ball is in his hands. He seems to be Self's Russ Rob but quicker.

I also notice when Johnson runs the point -- the ball sticks* much less.

*A Self favorite term

TheStonesSuck 3 years, 9 months ago

Did Roy recruit Russell Robinson? He was one of my favorite players ever. I would go so far as to say that he was as fast or faster than Elijah with the ball. We all know about his offensive inability, but he was GREAT on defense.

Jacobpaul81 3 years, 9 months ago

Russell was the first player Bill recruited to Kansas for the 2004-2005 basketball season. Jackson and Kaun joined him in Self's first class.

86finalfour 3 years, 9 months ago

No, Self recruited Russell - A nyc kid. Remember Roy didn't recruit on the east coast.

I'm not sure who runs faster but Elijah seems to have more explosiveness and lateral quickness. I think Self even said this in one of his talk shows this year, but I can't be certain.

oldalum 3 years, 9 months ago

I don't think it's fair to say "offensive inability"with regard to Robinson. He was known as a shooter coming in, but suppressed that to fill a different need.

TheStonesSuck 3 years, 9 months ago

Fair enough. He was a wonderful player for KU. I miss the chalmers/robinson backcourt...how they would turn the other teams guards into turnover machines.

jhox 3 years, 9 months ago

Elijah coming on has been great for the team. We need to get Selby going too. I hope Self can get him a lot of minutes in Big 12 tourney games. We need good output from him in the dance. His confidence is clearly shaken at this point. Too bad, because I thought just before his injury that he was really starting to come on.

Greg Lux 3 years, 9 months ago

For Josh to be effective we need to open up the middle a "LITTLE". Give him a little driving room by spreading the floor. Put him in the middle and just let him do his thing. But, we are too packed in the middle when he tries to drive. It's a simple concept .. give him some opening and let him "do it his way". Or at least lets try it a few times please. Having him on the floor shooting 3's and passing the ball around is worthless. All good players need a little help at first .. give him a little help and open the middle for him.

Rock Chalk

leonard 3 years, 9 months ago

"give him some opening and let him "do it his way"

His way has proven to be a flop. He's found out what 99% of freshman learn...those high school moves don't fool D1 players very often.

This team doesn't need to accommodate Selby. It's gut-check time for Selby...to see if he has the toughness to help us down the stretch...playing Coach Self's way.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 9 months ago

No one else (in the country?) has proven capable of making 60% from the field. Until something changes, the O will run thru the frontline and D's will pack it in trying to defend while hoping that the G's can't make 3's (which they can when playing Self-ish ball).

Josh's probs aren't terribly different than Brady a couple months ago. He needs to continue to work on what the team needs, stay aggressive on both ends, and his game will also return. He's too good not to.

Danny Hernandez 3 years, 9 months ago

I too agree. It's going to be difficult to drive the paint when you one maybe 2 defenders crowding the paint to keep one of the twin's out....It's just a charge waiting to happen....With the twin's offense, it's just asking too much to pull them out though

Greg Lux 3 years, 9 months ago

I am not saying pull them out ... I am saying like any play move them around. Move them out and then back in ( your talking 5 seconds ). Just like the screens we set for the dunk play. We run different plays for different folks .. Josh needs some help to boost his confidence and we can do a little of that for him like we do for any other player. This kid has far too much talent to waste. For some reason he is lacking the desire or confidence to finish the driving layup without charging ( caused by a packed in defense to stop the twins ). All I am saying is run a few plays to open the middle and give him a chance to do "HIS THING".

Rock Chalk

Woody Cragg 3 years, 9 months ago

" Players at all levels who believe they should be playing would do well to follow Johnson’s advice on how to stay tuned in so that when the opportunity arrives they can capitalize on it." Well stated, with only 1 turnover I must add. Johnson is starting to perform as well as he was highly recruited. Alot of schools were after him and I was really surprised he came to KU with our depth. All things accounted for, JB's glue guys continue to make these guys shine like comets in the night. The one who can make or break this squad next year will be Releford at the 3 spot. Even if a mass Exodus, should be top 10 by years' end, and ready for the ballroom after, count it, an "Eighth Straight" Big (Little) 12 Championship IMO. RCJH!

tampajhawk1 3 years, 9 months ago

doesnt ANYone else see Josh's situation for what it is? He's hit the freshman wall. Usually it happens in mid to late January, then a kid works through it and he's ready (often times) for the tourney.

well, mid january was about NINE games ago, no? how many games did he miss at the start of the season?

just sayin...

tampajhawk1 3 years, 9 months ago

ok so nine games ago was very early feb. still applies...

cklarock 3 years, 9 months ago

I agree. The question is, will the light go on for Josh soon enough to matter this season?

Normally I'm ambivalent about the B12 tournament, but this year, it might be nice to get the extra games in if it gives Josh a chance to break through that wall.

(And, of course, assure a #1 seed)

Jacobpaul81 3 years, 9 months ago

I never got my hopes up with Selby. He looks like most freshman. He's clearly skilled. He's just not ready for big time minutes like everyone was convinced he was going to be. I personally was shocked when Self moved him into the starting line-up. Russell ran into the same wall (after he got his eye poked in 2004). He looked like a machine to start, but quickly slowed. Selby is a freshman and we shouldn't expect much.

Johnson looked fantastic in the first 5 minutes of action. After that, the whole game was a bit hard to watch until Thomas turned it on.

I thought the best part of yesterday's game was Thomas. He didn't just look like a player. He was coaching on the court. On many occasions he was communicating and clearly instructing Johnson on where to go when he got in certain situations. That's something I love seeing. He reminds me so much of Darnell Jackson in his personality and style of play with so much more skill upside and clearly possesses the ability to lead. Very promising signs from Thomas in this game.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 9 months ago

It goes both ways as EJ was coaching TRob on how to stay in the game as well.

KansasComet 3 years, 9 months ago

Johnson and Selby given time will prove their worth. Johnson did not complain, he waited his turn and I don't think he will ever give up his starting position. Selby will be fine. I think he likes the big stage. The best is yet to come.

oldalum 3 years, 9 months ago

I like the way the players keep encouraging Selby, telling him to put this bad game behind him and concentrate on the next one. His closeness with the twins is a big plus in that regard. They could (and maybe have) tell him horror stories about their freshman years.

STLJHawk1 3 years, 9 months ago

Remember Chalmers as a freshman? A turnover machine if there ever was one. He turned out okay I guess. The difference is that Selby was positioned as a savior when in fact we don't really need to be saved too much. Selby will be better next year when he will be the focus. I do hope he can get some of his confidence back because we will need him if Reed and Morningstar go cold or falter.

MIZNIT 3 years, 9 months ago

I was at the game and as bad as selby played and as lost as he looked he was cheering the team on the entire game. After the buzzer sounded he was jumping up and down and celebrating with all of the starters. That's one thing you gotta like. He wasn't pouting on the bench, or giving off bad body language.

Theutus 3 years, 9 months ago

Great to hear... I really like Selby, I hope he doesn't let a rough streak get him down at all...

He's got all the tools, and the rest will come to him. It's just a matter of placing your faith in the coaching staff and staying positive.

100 3 years, 9 months ago

Keep up the hard work Selby your time will come!!!!!

slowplay 3 years, 9 months ago

When TT was suspended, I posted that it was going to be good thing for KU. EJ needed extended minutes to boost his confidence and prove he could play the point. TT needed to sit back and contemplate his weaknesses. Now we have 2 PT's with a lot of potential. Self can ride the one who plays best and not be concerned when he has to sub. Selby is a conundrum. He'll either work it out or not. If he does, KU is that much stronger, if not, the team is not going suffer.

rockchalk80 3 years, 9 months ago

When you look at EJ's stats---they don't look that impressive... but when EJ is playing---EVERYONE is playing better...and more importantly, the offense is flowing smoothly...

not a knock on TT...but an observation I noticed...

Another observation; TT seems to get to the rim with ease.

Jacobpaul81 3 years, 9 months ago

TT gets to the rim with ease. No duh. People have been bitching about his shooting stats all season.. but his primary job is not to score (nor is it EJs). They are on the court to draw defenders away from the power forwards and to get the ball on the rim. When you've got 3 athletic power forwards like we've got, you want to give them as many easy buckets as you can. When a PG drives, defenders pull off their man to stop the driving offensive player. If that PG can throw the ball up on the rim, his teammates are free'd up to grab the rebound in short range with a whole lot less defense against them. Thomas Robinson put on a show in the 2nd half against Missouri when he was given that two second defensive lapse. Numerous times he scored or got fouled off what began with a PG dribble drive and a slop shot.

REHawk 3 years, 9 months ago

Is pleasing not only to see but also to read that EJ and TRob are displaying signs of floor leadership, esp. as we shuffle among the possibilites for next season's lineup. Regarding Josh's struggles, freshmen find it very difficult to learn quickly to co-ordinate their mental set and motor neurons to Bill Self's style of play. Most fans are thrilled to view the sudden explosion such as the Marcus lob to Elijah, or the beauty of Tyrel's hooking to the corner for that 3-point bonanza in the game's concluding minutes. Yet, both of those picture-perfect actions stemmed from hours of practice and adherence to gametime designs drawn on chalkboards. There is a heck of a lot to learn for the newcomer to Jayhawk basketball. Also, there is certain give and take involved in coaching a player with the innate physicality and talents such as Josh brings to the table. The 9 game suspension and lower leg injury were most unfortunate to this adjustment process for Josh, his teammates and the coaching staff. I still predict that he will break loose to provide a bundle of smiles for all of us before this season ends. If not, I certainly hope he will return for another season when he has the good health and experience to right his listing ship. Obviously, he is a rare supertalented hoops recruit who bears the potential for extraordinary output. Gotta hope he also bears patient tenacity, such as that of his coach. "Getting it" has lots to do with cherishing every moment as a Jayhawk. He has already earned a Big 12 Champion ring! His fellow freshmen who are racking up the stats while losing games at Kentucky certainly will not walk off with such an early career honor....

kufamtrad1 3 years, 9 months ago

I think Ej had some good points that josh can learn from. Remember Cole had some what the same situation his freshman year wasn't getting a lot of mins, but when his time came which wasn't really til the north carolina game in the final four, he shined. That game spring borded his entire career at KU.

slowplay 3 years, 9 months ago

Selby has a chance to increase his potential income 10 fold if stays one more year. His skills are evident but he tries to hard. Once he learns to let the game come to him, he will be a more patient player and a threat to score from anywhere on the court. A little more upper body strength won't hurt either. A full off season in the weight room will do wonders.

hawksfan08 3 years, 9 months ago

The aggresive tempo that Elijah has set on defense is by far the biggest development late in the season. It reminds me of what Robinson did in 07 and 08. It also seems to filter down through the rest of the team including Taylor. I still think at some point Taylor or Selby will have to win a game offensively late in the year and I hope they can. Or Elijah looking to drive the ball more. He is clearly athletic enough to beat his man.

I would like to see our guards try and hit the roll man more off our pick and rolls. Robinson was open multiple times rolling to the basket but the guards never even look at the roll. They just reverse the ball without fail.

brooksmd 3 years, 9 months ago

‘Yeah, but you can’t overstep the boundaries because when you do that, you step on the referees’ toes, and they come back to the whole disrespect thing on the floor.’. Sounds like a court leader to me. I was one who groaned when EJ would come off the bench. I admit that those who said EJ needed some PT were right. Once given the opportunity it didn't take EJ long to settle in. Looking forward to watching him for 2 more years.

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

A big weakness to our game has been our struggles to finish off the fast break. EJ seems to be able to do that and Selby has the tools.

I sincerely hope that Tyshawn works on that part of his game because it is not there right now and we need him.

ksyank 3 years, 9 months ago

They seemed to play well with EJ and Taylor on the court at the same time with Brady and Tyrel subbing for each other in the second half against Fizzou. Seems like the rotation is going to get tighter now, Selby, Relaford, and Rio's minutes are all gonna drop some.

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