Great college basketball coaches know what expectations to set, how to drive players to meet them and how to convince them it’s in their selfish interests to play unselfishly.
But not everything players learn is taught by coaches. Sometimes, they learn from the example set by teammates.
Elijah Johnson, the lone Kansas starter who has not received conference player of the week honors on the only squad in Big 12 history to have four different honorees in the same season, did a nice job before Thursday’s practice of articulating what he has learned about and from teammates.
The lesson he learned about Jeff Withey, Johnson said, came early.
“One thing about Jeff,” Johnson said, “since I got here my freshman year, I’ve always played great with Jeff. Always. I’m a guard that can play real well with a big. Me and Jeff, we always connected.”
To hear Johnson tell it, there is no such thing as garbage time in a basketball game. He took the limited playing time he received very seriously.
“Even in the games we got in for the last two or three minutes a couple of years ago, I would always find him an alley-oop at least one time within those couple of minutes,” Johnson said. “I’ve always trusted Jeff. Jeff is a good player. He understands the game. He makes smart passes. He doesn’t play like he’s 7 feet, and that’s what’s unique about his game.”
Johnson had a simple explanation for why he’s a guard who can “play real well with a big.”
“I like to pass the ball,” Johnson said “I’m a good passer and to be able to throw the ball up, it’s almost like playing with Blake (Griffin). He’s just not as athletic as Blake.”
“Hmmm,” Johnson said, giving it some thought. “T-Rob in a couple of years. T-Rob. I’m pulling for him.”
Thomas Robinson, like Johnson, Withey and Travis Releford, is a junior, but he has one thing in common with senior Tyshawn Taylor. They both will play in the NBA next season.
And even as a senior, Johnson will continue to learn more about himself, Withey and Releford.
“I felt like I couldn’t shoot this year,” Johnson said. “But I know I can, and everyone knows I can, but I played like I couldn’t shoot. That made me learn stuff about the game overall, instead of just settling, coming down and shooting it every time. ... Coach (Bill Self) says, ‘The shot might not fall. Do something. Do something. You’re too good to just stop at that.’ And I thought about it. I am too good to just stop at that. If my shot’s not falling, that shouldn’t reflect on my whole game.”
Johnson shared how a teammate served as a good model to follow to apply that advice.
“Being scored on, I don’t like it,” Johnson said. “I don’t like it at all. I really don’t. That’s something I think I got from Travis because no one scores on him.”