LAWRENCE — Elijah Johnson can have a stubborn side, and it surfaced on Sunday, during a lengthy conversation with Kansas coach Bill Self.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Self had called in his Jayhawks for what Johnson termed a three-hour meeting, and Self spent some of the time cajoling and consoling his struggling point guard. Even after 19 turnovers in his last five games, and a poor performance in a loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, Johnson didnt think he needed a pep talk. So perhaps it didnt sink in right away.
But whatever Self said, it began to hit Johnson when he returned home. Maybe he really did need to hear from Self.
I know that hes still riding with me no matter what, Johnson said. Im just trying to grow up right now.
Johnson said this on Monday afternoon, two days after one of the low points of his career, and just a few hours after Self voiced a strong public vote of confidence for a senior that has struggled in his transition from off-guard to lead guard.
Elijahs my guy, Self said. Hes my guy, and we have the best chance to win with Elijah in the game. And hes learning how to play a position, and hes thinking too much instead of playing.
But that is the horse that we are gonna ride. And I believe that will be the best for our team.
Selfs firm statement squelched any lingering questions after he spent most of Saturday night questioning his teams toughness and guard play. Self went as far as saying his team didnt have a point guard an admission that served as a pointed critique of Johnsons play.
In his first season as Kansas lead guard, Johnson is averaging 9.3 points while shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 33 percent from the three-point line. More costly for KU: hes also struggled to become a consistent facilitator, averaging 3.2 turnovers in 22 games.
Johnson, speaking for the first time since the Oklahoma State loss, said he felt a sense of responsibility for the rare loss at Allen Fieldhouse.
I never rallied our team up at the end of the game, Johnson said. I blame that loss on me, 100 percent.
Johnson does not want to say that hes been pressing over the last few weeks. But maybe if he was making some more shots, hed be handing the ball and running the offense with a little more confidence.
Shooting can definitely give you a different kind of confidence, Johnson said. I feel like if I was making shots right now, Id be playing different.
Johnson, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last spring, hasnt appeared to play with the same bounce and athleticism that he showcased earlier in his career. But Johnson said Monday that he felt fully healthy.
On Monday, Self pointed out that Johnson went through a similar shooting slump last season. And to date, his shooting percentages are about what they were at this time last season. Johnson, of course, emerged from that spell and became one of KUs most clutch performers during its run to the NCAA title game.
For now, there are few other point-guard options in the backcourt, anyway. Sophomore Naadir Tharpe has battled his own shooting slump. And with a road game at Oklahoma on Saturday, and a home game against K-State next Monday, Self believes his team needs its best players ready to go. That includes Johnson, who is hoping to replicate last years late-season surge.
Do we have a chance, Self said, to go to the national championship game on February 1 (last year) if we would have said You know what, Elijahs just not producing, we have got to get somebody else in there? Zero.
Im banking on the same thing happening this year.
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.