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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ready to roll: Elijah Johnson, KU ‘re-energized’ after break

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson drives against Ohio State guard Shannon Scott during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson drives against Ohio State guard Shannon Scott during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.

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Kansas guard Elijah Johnson drives against Ohio State guard Shannon Scott during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.

A short-but-sweet 3 1/2-day Christmas vacation in his hometown of Las Vegas has rejuvenated Kansas University senior point guard Elijah Johnson.

“You get to see some familiar faces and think about what you are doing every day and think about how much you mean to people and how much people mean to you,” Johnson said. “(It was) definitely a time to reflect, come back and take care of business, have a whole new mind-set.

“It’s like getting re-energized,” added Johnson. “We’ve got some important games coming up. We’ve got some teams that’s hot — that’s on the market — that we’ve got to play. Right now, we’re getting through these first couple practices, getting our conditioning and focus back.”

Johnson, who scored 13 points in Saturday’s 74-66 victory over Ohio State, and his teammates returned to practice Wednesday night after being awarded time off for the holiday. They’ve been practicing twice daily in preparation for today’s game against American University (7 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse).

Johnson, who started at off guard and also backed Tyshawn Taylor at the point last season, hopes he’s ready to take the next step at the lead-guard position starting tonight. For the year, he has averaged 9.9 points (off 43.3 percent shooting), with 55 assists against 30 turnovers for the No. 6-ranked Jayhawks (10-1).

“I think it (confidence) has grown a little bit, getting comfortable trying to do it again,” the 6-foot-4 Johnson said of running the offense. “It’s something I’ve always done, but coming to Kansas, I kind of played the 2-role. Having to switch up and learn a whole ’nother position, it’s comfortable for me now. I’m just trying to have fun with it.

“I think Ty was a different kind of guard. He could really score, and I think Tyshawn put a lot of pressure on people how fast he was. I think it’s two different packages.”

KU of late also has received solid play from backup point Naadir Tharpe, who dished 10 assists against no turnovers while scoring 18 points the past three games — victories over Ohio State, Richmond and Belmont.

“I’m not too impressed because I know ‘Naa’ has got that in him,” Johnson said. “It’s about him doing it. If he continues to do that, I think we’ll be a way better team.”

Prior to this three-game stretch, the 5-11 Tharpe combined for three assists against eight turnovers and scored seven points against Colorado, Oregon State and San Jose State. That ineffective play followed a strong three-game swing against Saint Louis, Washington State and Chattanooga in which he had 11 assists, no turnovers and 11 points.

Freshman guard Ben McLemore enters tonight’s game against American (4-8) after scoring 22 points and grabbing six rebounds against the Buckeyes.

“Ben has brought energy,” Johnson said of McLemore, who averages 16.5 points and 5.7 boards. “People have seen the highlights with the dunks and everything. I feel like that’s what he deserves because of how hard he plays and practices every day. I don’t know anybody who tries to do the fundamentals as much as him — close out with high hands. He’s so coachable. He definitely brings positive energy to our team.”

Senior Jeff Withey, who spent an extra day in California to attend the memorial service of his grandmother, returned to practice Friday. The senior center has averaged 14.1 points and 8.3 rebounds, to go with 55 total blocks.

“He does so much on defense,” Johnson said. “Without him, we’d be a totally different team, no matter what anyone says about that.”

Coach Bill Self said Withey, “is better than what I thought (he’d be). He’s fallen in love with the game. He’s gotten better and will keep on getting better.”

Self said he’s looking forward to seeing his Jayhawks continue to improve.

“This year’s team has done a really good job so far of everybody putting both feet in a circle and saying, ‘Let’s do this together.’ That’s kind of refreshing,” Self said. “When you are coaching superstars, and we’ve had some here, they are unselfish, too, but they’ve got to score, do this or that, because that’s what was best for our team. I go into games now having no idea who our leading scorer will be, even though Ben has kind of emerged as that. It’s fun because it seems like there’s a different guy always stepping up.”

Yet, “ This is a team you can’t be soft on, I guarantee you,” Self said. “Once they start thinking they are really getting something done, we’ll get a knot put on our head. We need to be hungry and aggressive.”

About American: Located in Washington, D.C., with an enrollment of 6,783, American is 4-8 after losing to Georgetown, 65-48, on Dec. 22. The Eagles, members of the Patriot League, are coached by Jeff Jones, who is 202-163 in his 13th season. Senior forward Stephen Lumpkins averages 15.0 points and 8.3 boards. Senior guard Daniel Munoz averages 10.4 ppg.

“They will play 3-2, 2-3 (zones) and man and mix it up a little bit,” Self said. “KU fans should remember Jeff Jones. Was it the 1995 NCAA Tournament (in which Jones’ Virginia team beat KU, 67-58, in a Sweet 16 game in Kemper Arena)? They probably are a little rusty. I know we are, so it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Wesley target date, awaits reviews: KU junior forward Justin Wesley, who broke the little finger on his left hand on Dec. 13, said the target date for his return is Jan. 6 versus Temple.

“It’s healing pretty well now. As long as nothing comes out of place, I should be back then,” Wesley said, noting he’s currently, “shooting, noncontact (work). I can’t receive any hard passes, but I can shoot.”

Wesley, who plays Wilt Chamberlain in the upcoming movie “Jayhawkers,” said he’s been told the movie will be premiered in Lawrence this spring.

“If Spielberg (Steven) calls, I’ll have to take a little break from basketball,” Wesley joked of a possible future in acting. “I hope they (reviews) are great. I’m hoping they don’t say, ‘Bad movie; bad actor.’”

New Rivals rankings: KU signee Joel Embiid, a 7-foot senior from Rock School in Gainesville, Fla., has gone from unranked to No. 37 nationally by Rivals.com. Other KU signees and their rankings: Brannen Greene, 6-7, Tift County High, Tifton, Ga., No. 25; Wayne Selden, 6-5, Tilton (N.H.) School, No. 26; Conner Frankamp, 6-foot, Wichita North, No. 31; Frank Mason, 5-11, Massanutten Military Academy, Woodstock, Va., No. 134.

Miles in town: Former KU point guard Aaron Miles, who plays pro basketball in Russia, attended Friday’s practice.

Comments

Jesse Johnson 1 year, 11 months ago

Hopefully Aaron Miles was able to give some pointers to Elijah and Naadir at practice. Miles is still one of my all-time favorite Jayhawks because his non-scoring PG skills (incredible passing, court vision, floor general, etc.). I don't think anyone will come close to touching his assists record anytime soon. Of course, it helped that he had pretty darn good supporting casts, especially his first two years.

Jeff Kilgore 1 year, 11 months ago

Many great NCAA players played their last game against Miles and the great KU teams he led.

dylans 1 year, 11 months ago

I liked Miles and other points that have been at KU the last 25 years, but I gotta give Jacque Vaughn the nod for best point guard in that time period.

hawk316 1 year, 11 months ago

And another one to add to that list is RIchard Scott. That guy was amazing under the basket. If he had a few more inches on him, he would have had quite a pro career.

KJD 1 year, 11 months ago

Amen brother! Miles produced passes and created playes in the open court that were truly unique.

One comes to mind, can't remember who it was against. Miles throws a one hand bounce pass that travels half the length of the court (if not more since it was on a long diagonal), through traffic, hits his man in stride for a layup.

Scott MacWilliams 1 year, 11 months ago

It's good to hear the words of the Prophet, so eloquent and thoughtful in his assessment of the team. I love the way the team is coming together, and seems to me that no small part of that rise is due to Elijah really rocking out his role on the floor, showing the way especially for fabulous frosh crew Self has assembled.

And the ranking numbers on the incoming bunch for next year? # 25, # 26, # 31, # 37, #134? Could that be like a Lotto winning set of numbers??? YESS!!

Here's hoping also that Jeff is able to play through his grief for his grandmother. Those grannies are special people to so many of us, it's always a bit unreal when they aren't there anymore. We're all pulling for you, Jeff.

Rock Chalk, New Year Hawks!!

hawk316 1 year, 11 months ago

Elijah's development and maturity have been delightful to observe. His solid, senior leadership has been and will continue to be so important to the success of this team. KU fans need to allow him to be himself and not expect him to be another Tyshawn. EJ has a different game, as he himself understands. Having said that, I still would love to see him drive to the basket a little more. :-) He's such a great athlete and could use that to his advantage by penetrating more. And Naadir is looking terrific! This team is really coming together, and it's fun to watch.

jayhawkinnc 1 year, 11 months ago

Yes, I'm glad to hear our incoming recruits are ranked so high.....especially Embiid since he started out as unranked. We'll need those guys since we will lose 4 senior starters after this season and perhaps B-Mac too.

Josh Galler 1 year, 11 months ago

sometimes I think it could be b/c he is a Kansas recruit too

REHawk 1 year, 11 months ago

I would imagine that his height costs him 34 points in that ranking. Seems as though the ranking services are designed with future NBA concept in mind.

KGphoto 1 year, 11 months ago

Everything I've seen on him has been good. His highlights show off an array of skills. Shooting, passing, driving. I'd like to see some more details on what his downside is, other than the 5'11" thing.

From what I've seen, I'm definitely glad we got him.

REHawk 1 year, 11 months ago

Speaking of height impaired point guards, Phil Pressey went off for 19 assists, 19 points in a 94-97 loss to UCLA out on the coast last night.

Jack Wilson 1 year, 11 months ago

Saw that. In watching Phil Pressey, he just needs to cut his shot attempts down. He is an unbelievable passer. I think a lot of these point guards should simply focus on penetrating and dishing, and setting up their teammates. See Aaron Miles. During Tyshawn's time here, I mentioned many times that I felt he could be a much greater force if he just focused more on passing off of his penetration rather than shooting, and that then the defenders would be more concerned about the passing, thus setting up easier scoring. He got more shots blocked at the rim, and threw up more garbage that missed, than any point guard I think I had ever seen. But that never happened.

One of my favorite stats for Miles, by the way, was that he was a poor three point shooter .. below 30% his first three seasons combined, but then shot 50% his senior season.

akgjenkintown 1 year, 11 months ago

At least last year Self asked Tyshawn to be a scorer first. Think we're KU would have finished if he focused on passing. KU had few reliable outside shooters on last year's team. Robinson was doubled teamed constantly and the perimeter shooters struggled at times. It was a marvelous coaching job last year to even have a chance to win the national championship.

Jack Wilson 1 year, 11 months ago

akgjenkingtown: Agreed about last season. Magnificent coaching job. Probably the best I've seen. We very much needed his scoring last season.

But I felt from day one TT was selfish, a poor finisher, unreliable, and a deteriment with the ball in his hands. I felt that was true until the second half of his senior season (and during a brief stretch to start his junior season, before Selby got on the court). My point was just that if from day one, as a freshman, if he had focused on passing off of his penetration, instead of jacking up crap, he would have ultimately been a better player, helped this team more, and been a high NBA draft pick. I spent way too many cold evenings watching him drive, get his shot blocked, travel, fail to pass to an open man, turn the ball over, clang one off the backboard. He wasted his talent (penetration ability), and what could have been his best contributions -- creating scoring for others.

Joel Thomas 1 year, 11 months ago

I agree with everyone about Pressey, but towards the end of the game against UCLA he committed too many turnovers, trying for an amazing acrobatic pass.

Jeff Kilgore 1 year, 11 months ago

Haith doesn't seem to be able to rein in his players.

Jack Wilson 1 year, 11 months ago

When I saw the new rankings last night (link below), the Embiid jump was obviously what stuck out. But we had been prepped for that. We knew it was coming.

Remember that the rankings folks .. Dave Telep, etc. .. had suggested Embiid would jump into the top 50 even before he committed to KU. So the argument that he went up because KU signed him is just not valid. If you need proof of that, see Frank Mason. His jump was, well, not meteoric. There's a reason for that. Did the pursuit by big time teams help? Sure. But that's how rankings work. It's a compilation of everyone's info.

Rarely can you watch a player's video and really get some idea of how good they are. We try, but it's difficult. Much of the reason for this is because when we search the net, we only get the good samples. My view is that big guys are different a bit in one specific area when assessing videos -- skills. When we watch big guys, we usually see them dunking over wildly inferior guys. But back when the Embiid name surfaced, I mentioned (during the transformation of my opinion on him) that the skill set was obvious. The use of his left hand, his feet, his handling of the ball. That caused me to change my opinion on Embiid.

It also caused my opinion of Traylor, Anderson, and Lucas to be reinforced when I saw their videos online. They earned their rankings (or lack thereof) in my opinion. Developmental players with a bigger chance of busting or transferring. Not the same noticeable skill of Joel Embiid.

My first opinion on Embiid was rankings based, mostly. Also, his lack of time on the court, playing on a couple of years at best. Generally, I'm just not interested in anyone outside the top 100. And mildly interested in 70-100. I stand by that. I am that shallow. If you invest in the stock market, it's like the dividend paying stock .. it's tried, it's true, it's proven beyond any doubt. There are reasons why companies can continually pay cash to shareholders. You make money being shallow. There are reasons why guys are ranked in the top 50. Exceptions are there, but we know the better bet. I love betting on top 50 players.

Now, Embiid is a better bet. Is he a better bet simply because Rivals says he is? Yes, but no. His Rivals' ranking is simply an acknowledgement on Embiid of what was always there, but had just not been seen. He was new to the AAU scene. There was a lot of assessment going on, but not enough info as of the last rankings. Now we know.

Score one for coach Self on this .. kind of. Remember, if we land one true big guy, it's doubtful we land Embiid. Surely if we would have gotten Karviar Shepherd's commitment, we would not have gotten another true center's commitment in Embiid. But Self truly gets the credit. It's not how a guy gets here or what happened that caused it, it's the result. Ask the Patriots about Tom Brady.

(continued)

Jack Wilson 1 year, 11 months ago

(continued)

But remember, Withey was ranked #36. He needed development. Embiid needs development. I sense Embiid on a high trajectory. It may not start arcing upward immediately, but it just might.

Need may enhance the arc. Necessity is the mother of invention. Self plays experienced guys when he can. Extreme talent wins out, though. The forces of nature may be converging for Embiid in 2013. If we miss on Randle, the talent that he is competing against is not overwhelming. Actually, it's underwhelming. Next season, we may actually need Embiid.

I am a firm believer that Thomas Robinson, if given the keys to the castle as a freshman (28 minutes per game, for example), would have been a dominating force much, much quicker. He was way rough, but game speed playing time, pressure, etc., would have molded him much quicker into the player he became. Same with Withey. Same with most players. We see it happen at other schools who actually play their freshman through rough times. We saw Marquis Teaque early, and we saw him late. Big, big difference. If he played 5-7 minutes per game, no way he would have developed into the player we saw in the national title game.

If Perry Ellis is the starter from day one .. plays 28 - 30 minutes per game .. you think he's a better player now, than he appears to be? It's there. Waiting to come out. Time, experience, pressure, adjustment. Ellis would be playing now if he had to play Ellis. And Ellis would be a better player. If Travis Releford tore an ACL in October and Self would have started AW3 from day one, what do you think we'd be looking at now with AW3? Rough patches to be sure .. but you work through them.

Self may have to play Embiid next season. If he does, we may see the true Joel Embiid quicker than we might think. Ideally, we sign Randle. Randle starts with Ellis. Embiid becomes the first big off the bench, and is ready to start is sophomore season. But the odds don't favor signing Randle. Enter Mr. Embiid.

Here's the rivals link:

http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/basketball/recruiting/rankings/rank-2752

Jeff Kilgore 1 year, 11 months ago

You can't beat the eye test. To think that his youtube video is the reel of a 16-17 year old to have played just a year or two of basketball is nothing short of remarkable. If he can develop as much this year as he has in the last year or so, I can't imagine how good he could become.

Getting Randle would be great, of course, but you cannot deny the athletic ability and size of JE who will get undoubted bigger and stronger here. That thought is very fun.

bradynsdad 1 year, 11 months ago

I bet Coach K could send one of his players out on the court and just have him lay down and eventually that player would draw a charge. They have to teach a class called "The Perfect Flop". Sorry just watching this Duke game and its driving me nuts.

AsadZ 1 year, 11 months ago

HEM, A very good post.

We have debated many times here that Bill Self is a strong believer of experience. Either you show improvement in practice or do your job in the game otherwise you will be on a quick hook. This is who he is and the formula works. On a personal level I wish he would be more flexible with talented freshmen, allowing them to play through mistakes but I have come to terms with his philosphy.

Naadir Tharpe is a good example. He was given many chances last year but he was miserable in games - high TO and poor D. He has worked his butt off in the off season and is now showing solid improvement, thus more PT.

Jeff Kilgore 1 year, 11 months ago

Flexibility sacrifices game day, and Self hates to lose, so if kids have to sit awhile, they get to see how KU wins--what's expected of them.

FearlessJayhawk 1 year, 11 months ago

Tonight's game is going to be like an inter-squad scrimmage. I hope HCBS gives the bench-warmers a lot of playing time.

mikehawk 1 year, 11 months ago

Hope they play zone all night as we need the practice against one. However, a zone could provide Ben and others a dunk fest that would pull them out of it quickly. Some back and forth between zone and man could be helpful for games down the road. Will be interesting if slow down prediction from American will work when we seem to be able to speed teams up which I happen to believe contributes to the low 3 ball rate referred to in another article. You get sped up, you don't get comfortable, don't set you feet, and you start looking around rather than concentrating adequately on hoop during shot. I think the speed up works very well for us and it remains to be seen how it holds up during conference and on into the tournament when games really seem to slow down.

ParisHawk 1 year, 11 months ago

Very interesting point, reducing opponents' 3-point percentage by speeding up their offense. I wonder if that happens to us? It seemed in the past that when other teams started shooting lights out from 3 is when we got cold.

Tony Bandle 1 year, 11 months ago

The American Game will be a litle rough due to the layoff and the overall superior talent of Kansas...look for a blowout with a lot of mistakes.

KansasComet 1 year, 11 months ago

The thing that impressed me the most about the Ohio State game was every time Ohio State hit a big shot to attempt a rally, either Johnson, McLemore, Tharpe, Releford or Withey came right back with an answer. The Michigan State game, we weren't sure who would shoot the ball during crunch time, now we have several options. I love watching this team. I am looking forward to conference play. This is a special Jayhawk team. Full of confidence and belief in one another. I love it!

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