Former KU player Elijah Johnson on working Bill Self’s camps, hanging out with alumni
— Fourth-year pro Elijah Johnson can relate to current Kansas basketball players Jack Whitman and Malik Newman, who took shots to the jaw and stomach that sidelined them for a spell during a highly-competitive set of drills run for Bill Self’s basketball campers Tuesday afternoon at Horejsi Center.
“Man, those drills are so funny. People look at those drills and they kind of overlook them,” Johnson said of intense passing and shooting exercises that start with the perimeter players on one end of the court and frontcourt players on another — the two sides eventually merging to run plays in a halfcourt scrimmage format.
“One day (during his 2009-13 KU career), I had to say to myself, ‘Coach is making us do these drills every day. If we do nothing else we do these.’ You can take what you learn in drills and put it into game situations a lot of times. These drills are a cheat sheet to getting shots up in a game. These drills are great, man. I still go off those drills. Some coaches are frustrated with me ‘cheat stepping’ and doing some of the stuff Coach Self taught me. Coach put it in my head first. It kind of sticks.”
Johnson and former KU women’s player Natalie Knight will likely be running some of the same drills — minus the contact of course — during their own basketball camp for youths ages 7 to 18 on June 20 at Emporia High School. For information go, click HERE.
“It’s normal fundamentals,” Johnson said of his camp. “Being around the kids, they always make you laugh, smile, help you remember to just have fun.”
Johnson’s fourth pro season — one that had him on rosters of four different teams in Croatia, Israel, Germany and Turkey — was “crazy” and “fun,” he said Tuesday.
“It was a good experience,” he said. “I think I got to learn more in one year than some players get to learn in five years over there. I got to bounce around and see different markets at a quick pace. I realized Turkey for the most part was for me. Trying the other countries … it was some good programs and everything. It gave me a chance to be able to tell the difference between the different countries.”
The 26-year-old Johnson — who has played in Poland, Greece and Turkey his first three years as a professional — said he “has some stuff I’m trying to do at home in the NBA, but if I have to go overseas (in 2017-18) my first option would be Turkey.”
Johnson has been staying in shape while playing pick-up games with KU’s current players. He had six points for KU’s alumni team in last Wednesday’s 82-75 loss to the current Jayhawks in Self’s campers game at Horejsi Center.
“I like Devonté (Graham). I like what he brings to the table,” Johnson said. “He’s going to have to adjust to having the ball in his hands probably a little more this year. I like Malik (Newman) running with him. I think we’ve got some weapons. Although a lot of people haven’t been on the floor for us yet, I think coach will whip ’em up. I don’t think this team is going to be one step behind any other team, even though they do not have too many returnees. I think coach is going to get them right.”
Newman, the Mississippi State transfer, practiced last season but did not play in games in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.
“It doesn’t matter how tired he is, he’ll continue to try,” Johnson said of Newman. “He can be dog tired and will still give you effort whether it turns out great or bad. I like the way he likes to get his nose dirty like that. I have confidence in that.”
On Tuesday, Johnson’s former KU teammate, Tyshawn Taylor, participated in the half-hour’s worth of drills for Self’s campers.
“We were supposed to play against each other in Israel. I sat out that game. Three to four months later we played each other in Turkey. It was a crazy game back and forth. Tyshawn I think had 31 (points) and 10 assists maybe. I had 38 and 15 rebounds. It was a crazy game,” said Johnson.
Johnson indicated he’s also played against former KU guard Josh Selby in Turkey and Russell Robinson in Poland.
KU sophomore guard Sam Cunliffe did not attend Tuesday’s camp workout because of sickness. Sophomore guard K.J. Lawson watched the drills but didn’t compete because of an ankle injury. He’s listed day to day.
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