Wednesday, March 13, 2013

KU’s Elijah Johnson grows into Jayhawks’ clear leader

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson encourages strong play from his teammates against Texas Christian during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Elijah Johnson encourages strong play from his teammates against Texas Christian during the second half on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.


During the first two seasons of his college basketball career, Kansas University guard Elijah Johnson sat in the shadows and watched the Jayhawks rack up 68 victories in 74 games.

While averaging just 11 minutes per game during those two seasons, Johnson used the pine time to study players such as Sherron Collins, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson as they led the Jayhawks both on the stat sheet and in the huddle.

“I learned a lot from those guys,” the 6-foot-4 senior said during a recent interview with the Journal-World. “I always thought about how I would go about it when I looked at them in different situations. ... For those first two years, I watched, I watched, I watched, and now that I’m out there it’s just slow motion to me.”

Those days, with Collins serving as the undisputed leader during Johnson’s freshman season and Taylor gradually working his way into the same role over the course of the next two seasons, Johnson was merely a backup point guard and offered a different option off the bench. He did what he could to get reps, played when called upon and tried to keep track of the lessons in a mental scrap book.

Playing alongside Taylor as a junior allowed Johnson to flourish. He became a starter and the team’s third-leading scorer (10.2 points per game), averaged 32 minutes per game and had the freedom to fit into games as needed — no restrictions, no burdens. Basketball, the way Johnson played it, looked simple. And fun. Shoot, pass, score, rebound, defend. And it was fun, of course. The Jayhawks reached the national title game and Johnson, who had a fantastic NCAA Tournament in 2012, was a big part of the reason why.

But even as the fun and freedom led to new heights, Johnson admitted it took awhile to get used to his new role.

“I think that was probably the hardest adjustment I have had here,” he said of transitioning from point guard to combo guard. “Coach never told me not to play point guard but it just felt a little different.”

Now in his final season, Johnson once again has had to fight to adjust, this time moving back to the position he always considered to be most natural.

“In my opinion, I’ve always been a point guard,” Johnson said. “Ever since I was real young, I always have been able to rally people. It’s just been a part of my character. It’s just me, really.”

Ranked out of high school by as the fifth-best point-guard prospect in the nation, Johnson’s return to the point has been hard to evaluate. Early on, he looked to be in control, running the offense effortlessly, getting others involved on each possession and operating with the poise and confidence of a player who had been in the program for four seasons.

“Elijah has to become an extension of the coaching staff and of me,” said KU coach Bill Self at the beginning of Big 12 play. “And I think he’s done a pretty good job of doing that. He’s a bright kid and been around a lot and played in big games, so he gets it.”

At the same time, there were moments — stretches, even — when Johnson disappeared and looked nothing like the cold-blooded, confident gamer he was as a junior. During the down times, he was far less explosive and offensive-minded than he was during last season’s run to the title game. Johnson will be the first to tell you that his numbers aren’t what he expected or even what they should be. But it’s not numbers Johnson is worried about heading into Thursday’s 2 p.m., Big 12 tournament quarterfinal against either West Virginia or Texas Tech. It’s wins. And leadership. And as he tries to deliver both, he often goes back to the lessons he learned from Collins and Taylor during his first three years in Lawrence.

“Watching Sherron,” Johnson recalled, “the way he was just so focused at the end of the games; I would try to talk to him and he didn’t want to be bothered, he was just so focused on leading the team. I always kind of let moments like those linger in my head and I’m just trying to let them play out now.”

As his final season in Lawrence has neared its end, Johnson has traveled his rocky road with the confidence of one of those guys who walks barefoot across hot coals — one foot in front of the other, just keep going. He followed up the worst three-game stretch of his life with a 39-point outburst in a huge road victory at Iowa State. It was a highlight moment for Johnson and one of the best performances of all-time by a KU guard, according to Self.

“He was the best player in the country,” Self said following Johnson’s career night.

Johnson followed up the ISU outburst with back-to-back double-digit assist games in blowout victories over West Virginia and Texas Tech, both of which were crucial in delivering a ninth straight Big 12 Conference title to Lawrence.

Johnson’s current teammates have nothing but admiration for the resolve and toughness their leader has displayed this season.

“Especially in practice,” fellow senior Travis Releford said. “There’s times where he’s dead tired and he won’t come out of practice just because he wants to continue to push himself and continue to make the team better. I definitely see it.”

Asked if watching the adjustment from Johnson the scorer to Johnson the distributor had been strange, Releford dismissed the thought.

“That’s what people were worried about,” Releford said. “But he’s a point guard. He’s not supposed to look to score. He’s supposed to create opportunities for others to score. He’s done everything he’s been asked to do.”

Added red-shirt freshman Ben McLemore: “He means a lot to me. On and off the court, he’s like a big brother to me. He talks to me a lot, gives me advice about different things I need to work on and what I need to do. Watching him and learning from him is just awesome.”

For a coach who has had nothing but clear-cut leaders at Johnson’s position since arriving at KU, Self was honest when asked to think back on his preseason assessment of the next man up.

“I probably didn’t know (if he would),” said Self regarding Johnson’s ability to lead. “But I certainly expected (it). I think he’s still growing into it. But I think he’s done well. I think guys listen to him.”

Self continued: “It’s amazing to me: you can have a great leader that’s a big guy, you can have an unbelievable talker as a four man or a guy that everybody follows his lead as a three man, but still, if you were to ask any coach, ‘Who would you want to be your leader?’ everyone would say, ‘I want my quarterback or my point guard to be that guy.’”

Now that the Jayhawks (26-5 overall, 14-4 Big 12) have just two guaranteed games remaining in Johnson’s career, Self’s hoping and expecting that his point guard will take his game to another level.

“So much of Elijah’s criticism, in my perspective, has been (because) he hasn’t made shots,” Self said. “If you make shots and you’re not a true point guard, I think that’s something people can kind of get past. Tyshawn didn’t make shots. Tyshawn was 0-for-21 in the NCAA Tournament or whatever and everybody’s talking about how great he was because he put himself in the game. I think that’s what Elijah’s gotta do the rest of the season, make sure he impacts as many possessions as he possibly can.”

Now that the he’s the one saddled with the responsibility of navigating last year’s national runner-up through the 2013 postseason, Johnson does not plan to let anything change how he attacks his final crack at living up to the standard.

“I think when you’re here, you focus on your task,” Johnson said. “You’re not focused on what happened before you or what’s gonna happen after you; you’re just trying to focus on what you’re here to do. I have a job to do, and that’s what I’m doing.”


JayhawkRock78 1 year, 1 month ago

Chris, That was sweet. I say put some KU highlight videos on U Tube and put your song in the background. Next thing you know they'll show it on the airwaves with KU's Harlem Shake.


Chris1955 1 year, 1 month ago

Somebody previously mentioned Radar Love, and unfortunately, that got my mind off track. This is what happened. Yeah, its bad, well maybe the first line isn't too bad, but what heck.

Jayhawk Love

I've been drivin' tonight, just to get to the Wheel. There's a voice in my ear, saying “Go for the steal”. It's my baby yellin', says, "Get over here". And it's late 2nd half, and I'm sensing fear.

When she's nervous and the game is just too much, She starts to holler, callin’ me bad names and such. Don't need no phone at all. We've got a thing that's called Jayhawk love. We've got to wave the wheat in the air, Jayhawk love.

The announcer sayin’ some forgotten stat, I thought I heard him say that Sherron was fat. The Hawks are comin' on fast. The PHOG gets to me every time. Now I'm sure we’re headed into overtime.

When she gets lonely, and I'm sure she’s had enough, She sends for comfort, comin' in from above. Don't need no text at all. We've got a thing that's called Jayhawk love We've got Phog in the rafters, Jayhawk love.

No more speedin’, I just got there, Gotta keep cool, now gotta take care. At last errant pass, there we go. And the timeouts left are getting down real low And the announcer says that forgotten stat. The Hawks are comin' on fast. That last commercial had a stupid song. Now that I’m here, we’re one more Jayhawk lover strong.

When she get nervous, and I'm sure she’s had enough. She starts to holler callin’ me bad names and such. We don't need no text at all. We've got a thing that's called Jayhawk love. We've got PHOG in the rafters. We've got a thing that's called Jayhawk love. We've got a thing that's called Jayhawk love


Dan Harris 1 year, 1 month ago

The only team that scares the bejeebers out of me is the team that KU put out on the floor against TCU and Baylor!


JayHawkFanToo 1 year, 1 month ago

Too much Is being made of KU playing Creighton. Lunardi may have coined the term "bracketology," but there are others that rank ahead of him. In the latest evaluation of "bracketologists" based on past performance, he came I believe in 23rd place.

In any case, there is still a lot of BBall to be played before the seeding and locations are finalized. KU can realistically be anywhere between a 1 and 3 seed.


1stnamemistermiddlenameperiod 1 year, 1 month ago

From the Andrew Wiggins camp:

" It seems that it was his time with the players that stood out during his visit to Lawrence.

'He spoke about being able to spend a little more personal time with the players,' Fulford said. 'I think he enjoyed the atmosphere there, and I'm not saying he enjoyed the atmosphere there more than others, but he talked about it more than the others.'''


Sally Presson 1 year, 1 month ago

I'm with wavingthewheatOH, you said it all, now is the time to stand behind our Jayhawks and give them all the support they deserve!! I just know they will give the remainder of the season their all and blow away the teams in the Big 12 tourney and hit them hard at the NCAA!!

Go Jayhawks!!!


JayhawkRock78 1 year, 1 month ago

Just FYI our women recently won the Big 12 Track Championships and now we have another Jayhawk honored as Track & Field Athlete of the year!!!

This young lady graduates this year, AND this is the last year the KU Relays will be held in Memorial Stadium. The Relays are April 19, and 20. Get up to Lawrence and watch her and the rest of our squads.


Ralster Jayhawk 1 year, 1 month ago

Now is the time to support all our players 100%! Lets see what they can do! RCJH!


Ralster Jayhawk 1 year, 1 month ago

"Elijah an extension of the coaching staff"...see Krug's photo at top of this story: EJ really does have the same "come on, man!" facial expression that Self does!


Ralster Jayhawk 1 year, 1 month ago

Look at it in absolute terms: What seed is Creighton? If a blueblood cant get by Creighton, well...(enough said about KU). No fear, fellow fear! The players either come out with fire and get it done, or they dont. We get to Dance every single season, unlike most of Div.1 just trying to get into the Madness. If we lose, I would feel worst for the players, as they each have a short window to experience the chance to win it all. We alums get to ride along with each Tourney run the rest of our days...RCEJH! Be strong, EJ!


Kevin Huffman 1 year, 1 month ago

"I always told people in the recruiting process that I saw him play 24 straight AAU games," Fulford said. "He knew me and I was around all the time and he developed a personal relationship with me. So when the decision had to be made, he knew where he wanted to come and his parents just had to sign off and I don't think this will be any different.

"Fans are important but I don't think they are as important as the people he is going to be associated with on a daily basis. The staff, the administration, the current players and the incoming recruits, he is going to want to feel total comfort with them all."

Read More:

****Grabbed this from - posted like 2 hours ago. The last sentence to me - given that in the article he said that he already knows Kennedy Meeks and other makes me think that UNC's in the lead with him (Wiggins).


kennethst 1 year, 1 month ago

I see regardless of where ESPN puts us in the brackets......we seem destined to play Creighton in 2nd round. This is NOT a match up we want. I agree with theend.

Not good. That's a minefield waiting.

I don't like it.


KGphoto 1 year, 1 month ago

Anybody witnessing “The Biggest Loser” on ESPN right now? Cincinnati severely screwed themselves by losing the tie-breaker to Providence and are the first victim of the camo/zuba adidas scandal.

They got the away versions on national TV. Ouch! You just cannot unsee that.


Born_And_Raised_A_KU_Fan 1 year, 1 month ago

Memo to everyone: Do not change your avatar to a highway shield. With the damage Highway Man has done (most recently with an I-49 shield), if you change your avatar to a highway sign, you'll be mistaken for Highway Man and get yourself banned.

So if I change my avatar to Douglas County Highway 1061 (which passes through my boyhood hometown of Eudora), even though I'm a legit KU fan, the LJW will nuke me.


Jason Keller 1 year, 1 month ago

I've got a good feeling about this year. I don't think we will lose a game in the Sweet 16 or the Elite 8. The first two, however, scare me. If we don't get knocked out in one of the first 2 rounds, I think they go to the Final Four where ANYTHING can happen.

Tank 7: Check, Nacho Chips: Check, Little Smokies: Check

Now, if I can just get rid of the girlfriend on gameday, I might actually be able to enjoy this darn thing!


Tony Bandle 1 year, 1 month ago

Leaders are born, or grow into the role, or are thrown into the position by circumstance or take over because there is no one else.

I really can't decide which situation truly fits Elijah. But my suspicion is that if there had been someone else on this roster who fit the leadership role, he would have gladly turned the reins over to them.

It seems that sometimes he is battling two opponents....the opposing team ...and himself.


William Blake 1 year, 1 month ago

I'm a fan of Jaybate. I try to read him regardless how long his posts are. I wish I had his ability to write and create... but since I don't, I'm just a click away from being able to read someone who can lay it down!

He's earned my respect by hanging in there through several criticisms. You have to believe in what you are doing to keep going.

So... Rock (Chalk) On, JB!


741hawk 1 year, 1 month ago

Speaking of Williams . . . Did ya see the Duke / UNC game? UNC just shot jump shots . . . and missed. They ran no offense. Duke got out to a 14-0 lead; and, of course, Roy did not call time-out. (He learned that from Dean.) Roy was a non-entity in that game. Reminded me of how, two weeks before he left, I realized how tired I was of his act. Rock Chalk!


Steve Yeakel 1 year, 1 month ago

I have loved the Jayhawks since 1958 and always will, but let's be honest - EJ is very inconsistent, does not play good defense against a top driving PG (his Las Vegas counterpart Pierre Jackson single handedly broke us down with shots and feeds because EJ could not stay in front of him, which was the key to our loss). We can go all the way this year, I will be pulling for it and rooting for it big time, like always, but I hope that Naadir has been allowed to develop his game and is good enough for when we need him, and that Bill will make the switch when needed.


yates33333 1 year, 1 month ago

This is an interesting article considering the outcome of the Baylor game and KU's performance. I hope it wasn't based on floor leadership.

I don't understand this hostility toward jaybate. I agree that I would rather read his analysis of players and games than read his comic presentations, but as in life you gotta take the excellent with the mundane. Jaybate suffers from being too intelligent. He needs to be like most of us B and C students.

I don't understand this dislike of Weber. I would have liked to have Frank Martin stay at K-State, but he didn't. Weber did a good job this year albeit with Martin's recruits. These things don't happen automatically. He does make some dumb statements. He doesn't have the savoir-faire of our Okie from Edmund, but very few BB coaches do. Self is a one of a kind. Everyday, or almost everyday, I thank the Lord that Williams left and we got Self. Talk about falling in it and coming out smelling like a Rose. And to think I resented Williams leaving. Good Luck Goober, but I still don't like your Tarheels.


midwest_muser 1 year, 1 month ago

If it's possible, I'm sure by now many of you have set some preference to block jaybate's posts. I'm sure some read them but I've grown tired of his pointless babble taking up so much space. Can somebody share the procedure to block contributors entirely if one exists?


TenaciousD 1 year, 1 month ago

Great article, Matt. Very well written. Whether it's football or basketball, you always do your homework and deliver.

Here's hoping Elijah shows us the Iowa State Elijah from here on out. I think he will, especially in the big tournament.


FearlessJayhawk 1 year, 1 month ago

Johnson may be the clear leader, but all the talk and good intentions doesn't mean anything. It's time to put up or shut up.


KansasComet 1 year, 1 month ago

Elijah Johnson will do his part as the point guard and leader of this team. It's his team. He has shown the ability to be Mr. Big Shot for this team in close games. However, this is a team sport and everyone on the team needs to accept and embrace their role on the team.

Naadir Tharpe needs to do his part and knock down open 3's, get others involved and take over the point when EJ needs a breather.

Travis Releford needs to score. The offense and the defense feed off Travis Releford's scoring. The majority of his buckets come in transition. He is the best finisher at the rim on this team. When he splashes 3's it gives the entire team confidence.

Jeff Withey needs to stay out of foul trouble. His game changes dramatically when he is in foul trouble. We need his shot blocking and rebounding. Knocking down an occasional jump shot is an added bonus..

Kevin Young needs to crash the boards and steal us extra possessions.

Perry Ellis needs to continue to drive as well as splash the open 10-12 footer when he is left open.

Ben McLemore needs to do what he does best which is run around and get himself free for the automatic (Radar Love) jump shot. Highlight dunks are not a bad thing in transition. This will command the double team which may could leave EJ or Naadir a one on one matchup where they could get in the lane to score or throw the lob for a dunk.

Everyone else, be ready, your name could get called.

In every game in which we are reactionary, we lose. However, KU is lethal when in attack mode, pretty much unbeatable.


Jayhawks Rock 1 year, 1 month ago

So I see that Wiggins recently commented about his last two visits. Anyone know what he said about Kansas?


KJD 1 year, 1 month ago

I enjoyed the concoction of history and what we are all about to witness. Cheers.

Recent "blowout victories over West Virginia and Texas Tech" is one of the up sides to the late season surge that Texas unleashed. Kansas has recent scouting reports and the confidence to execute against either team they will face in our first round match-up.

The best upside to the two wins against K-State is getting the more favorable side of the tournament bracket. Texas is going to smoke TCU, if I had to bet anything. The Longhorns are much more dangerous than either TT or WV right now. OU beat KU in our last meeting, where they shot lights out to build a lead, so that is plenty of focus. If you want super focus lets see how much focus EJ's team can put on ISU after ESPN and the world said we might have well lost to them twice this season.

Meanwhile, K-State, if they survive Texas, will have to face Smart's Cowboy's on a neutral court or hungry Bears. ISU will be hungry, though I think KU will be hungry to put a boot on their throat and stomp them to make clear who owns this league.


Kevin Jenkins 1 year, 1 month ago

If we can just get EJ to act on what he just said. If Bill can get him motivated to respond. We can win it all


jaybate 1 year, 1 month ago

"7 Things You Probably Didn't Know about Bruce Weber"

  1. Bruce graduated magna cum laude from the Donald Trump School of Tact.

  2. Bruce is the first coach to have rationalized a force-out season by saying he was "coaching not to lose."

  3. Weber spelled backwards means nothing.

  4. Bruce Weber is not related to Max Weber.

  5. Bruce believes he is among the Top 10 busiest recruiters and Top 5 fertilizer spreaders.

  6. The Weber Grill is not named for Bruce Weber.

  7. Bruce's middle name is Brett. He was not named for Brett Maverick, or Bruce Wayne.

Note: All fiction.


jaybate 1 year, 1 month ago

Part 2

Sometimes Self seems to be playing this long career of breaking players out of their self-images and breaking them through to who they heck they really are.

Sometimes I think that is why Self is so terrific at taking player to new levels.

Sometimes I think the point here with Elijah is for Self to make him (force him) to realize that he isn't really a point guard, or a two guard, or a combo guard, or any preconceived notion of himself.

There is a reason Self has repeated himself thusly: “He was the best player in the country.”

Sometimes I think the point is to coach Elijah up and then force him beyond all his preconceived notions and into lightening in a bottle, a player that is utterly, purely himself and no one and nothing else. Its just that once in this state, he also happens to be able to play Self Defense and run a team, too.

This is, I believe, is the Glass Bead Game that Magister Self is trying to teach Magister Johnson.

But, hey, guys, we're kind of getting up against a deadline here. And it looks like we've got a grudge match coming up against K-State. We need to work through this. Now!

As Bob Dylan sang:

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief.

“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.

Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth.

None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”

“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke.

“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.

But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,

So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view,

While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl.

Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

--"All Along the Watchtower" Bob Dylan, Dwarf Music


jaybate 1 year, 1 month ago

"Bill and Elijah: Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now"

Part 1

“If you make shots and you’re not a true point guard, I think that’s something people can kind of get past." --Bill Self on Elijah Johnson

“In my opinion, I’ve always been a point guard..." --Elijah Johnson on Elijah Johnson

And herein lies a big part of the rub at point guard on this year's KU basketball team.

The coach apparently sees the player differently than the player sees the player.

If a coach and a player can't even agree on whether the player is a point guard, how the heck can a player become an extension of his coach on the floor at point guard?

To wit: “Elijah has to become an extension of the coaching staff and of me,” said Bill Self at the beginning of Big 12 play, back in what seeems another century.

Its March 13th, guys. There are two flipping guarantied games left. How much longer to do you plan to take to work through this issue? The last minute of the last guarantied game?

Or are you thinking about maintaining this schizoid approach all the way to the end of the line--the final game in March Madness?

Imagine KU winning it all this season.

Cue the hackneyed, dreadful, "One Shining Moment" theme.

What? The last shot is Self and Elijah debating on whether he's a flipping point guard, or not? Let's get to yes, shall we?

Travis Releford, whom I increasingly venerate as perhaps the sanest, steadiest Jayhawk--player, or coach--put it this way with mild annoyance.

Saith St. Travis of the Immaculate Defense: “But he’s a point guard. He’s not supposed to look to score. He’s supposed to create opportunities for others to score. He’s done everything he’s been asked to do.”

May I add: next.

But Self can't seem to allow "next" in this case.

Bill Self, apparently a combo in his own mind, if ever one viewed oneself as one, seems to be stuck on this issue.

Bill can be this way.

Bill is very big on players seeing themselves the way he sees them.

Bill is trying to do them a favor.

Bill is trying to disabuse players of false illusions.

Marcus saw himself as a 3 playing 4.

Bill saw Marcus as a stretch 4 playing a smattering of 3 in a pinch.

Perry saw himself as a 3 being asked to play 4.

Bill saw Perry as a 4 without a prayer of playing 3, at least this year.

Bill saw (and still sees) Tyshawn Taylor as a combo playing point.

Tyshawn kind of came into his own, when he basically forgot entirely what Bill Self thought about him.

Tyshawn tried the "I'mma combo, I'm notta point guard" thing and went through a stretch of 8-10 turnovers and got to the point where he asked to be benched.

Sometimes, I think forgetting all about what Self thinks of you is actually the final step in Self's freeing of the birds of prey in his player aviary.

Sometimes it seems like the whole point.


Doug Cramer 1 year, 1 month ago

Would like to see EJ have confidence in himself through the next 9 post season games. EJ...if your dribble drive results in a charge...don't let that discourage you from taking it to the hole on the next possession. We need your dribble drive ability to win the next 9 games. It's huge !


wavingthewheatinOH 1 year, 1 month ago

Remember what Coach Self told the boys in a timeout with two minutes to go in regulation in the ‘08 Final Four game? He said, “As far as I’m concerned, you’ve won this game. All you have to do is believe it!” They did, and what was the result? A national championship! It’s a curious thing about believing–whatever you believe for, you get. It’s a law of life: Believing equals receiving.

What we believe is directly reflected in what we speak or write. If our words are full of fear, doubt, and worry, then our negative believing will yield negative results. Negative words become fiery darts that lodge in the minds of the players and coaches, and if believed, eventually result in discouragement, disappointment, and defeat.

Each fan in our Jayhawk Nation can have a positive impact on what happens in Kansas City and at the NCAAs this year, and here’s how: Since words are powerful and their impact can be far-reaching, let’s encourage and inspire our players to more worthy endeavors by speaking/writing positives about them. Let’s help them build confidence in their ability to win. The results of our words will be amazing, and we may even be dancing in the streets by April. It’s worth a shot!


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