LAWRENCE — Two weeks ago, Marcus Johnson could see his son was hurting.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
It was a Saturday night, and Elijah Johnson had just returned to his off-campus apartment after finishing with eight points and four turnovers in Kansas 67-54 victory over Oklahoma. Marcus was in town for the game, but when Elijah returned home, he could tell something was eating at his son.
He was quiet, Marcus Johnson said. And he didnt do a lot of talking. And he doesnt do that when his daddy is around.
Marcus, of course, knew just what to do. He headed for the kitchen and made a few heaping bowls of spaghetti and some fried pork chops. Pretty soon, father and son were trading jokes, and the apartment was full of life again.
Were gonna get through this like we got through everything else, Marcus said.
On Wednesday night, as Marcus Johnson tracked his sons latest game from the familys home in Las Vegas, he wished he could have been there, ready with another hot meal.
In one of the most unexpected results of the college basketball season, Kansas went down at Big 12 bottom-feeder TCU. And Marcus watched as his son continued his recent trend of shooting woes, finishing with eight points on just three of 12 from the field.
Its hard to explain what happened last night, Marcus said. Maybe the entire team should cancel practice and go to church.
After Wednesday nights performance, thats not the worst idea. Maybe there werent unknown forces at work inside Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, where the Jayhawks managed just two field goals in the opening 15 minutes, but it certainly felt like it.
It was an offensive performance that required teamwide participation. Senior guard Travis Releford attempted just one shot. Ben McLemore and Naadir Tharpe combined to shoot just eight of 31 from the field. And after two straight losses, the Jayhawks were left reeling.
But because Marcus Johnson is a father, his thoughts immediately went to his son.
Its been a trying season for Elijah Johnson. His adjustment to the point-guard position has been slow. The turnovers have piled up. And to make matters worse, the ball just wont go in the basket.
Even before Wednesdays loss, Elijah said he was trying to forget his shooting percentages.
If I start to focus on that more, Elijah Johnson said early this week, I might bring more stress on myself, and thats not what I need right now. Im just trying to relax. Itll fall. I know it will.
By Thursday afternoon, Marcus Johnson had been inundated with calls. Family members. Friends. Old coaches. All concerned about his sons state of mind.
My phone has been ringing all day today, Marcus said. I had to shut it off to take a nap.
It all reminded Marcus of a story from back when Elijah was in high school. He was a junior at Cheyenne High School, and he couldnt make a shot all winter. The ball kept rimming out, and Elijah had to find other ways to help his team win.
By seasons end, they were in the state tournament, Marcus said.
There are more stories like that. Years ago, Marcus and Elijah left the familys home base in Gary, Ind., to start a new life in Las Vegas. They did it by caring for each other, and working through the tough times. And thats made the last few weeks difficult.
Elijah has drawn his fair share of pointed criticism from KU coach Bill Self to the daily echo-chamber of social media and for now, he hasnt been able to emerge from the rut.
Marcus says his son may be putting too much pressure on himself. Elijah has always been a thinker. And the extra voices can just create more noise.
After the last week, the same might be said about the rest of the Jayhawks. These are uncharted waters for this fifth-ranked Kansas team, which followed a rare home loss against Oklahoma State with that debacle at TCU. Now a trip to Oklahoma awaits on Saturday.
The Jayhawks, though, have plenty of time to make things right. And on Thursday, Marcus thought back to that dinner with Elijah in Lawrence. His son was down. But only for a minute.
He got to smelling that food, cracking jokes, and then it was just like old times, Marcus said.
Let him work it out. Because he will. He always does.
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to email@example.com.