Campus Corner

Change is coming for KU’s Devonté Graham — and Elijah Johnson has already been through it

Former KU player Elijah Johnson on working Bill Self’s camps, hanging out with alumni

Former KU guard Elijah Johnson spoke while in town for Bill Self's summer camps.
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Former KU guard Elijah Johnson spoke while in town for Bill Self's summer camps.

Former Kansas guard Elijah Johnson knows what Devonté Graham is about to go through. He’s already lived it.

In 2012, Johnson played alongside senior playmaker Tyshawn Taylor before being asked to take over primary ball-handling duties the next year.

Graham — like Johnson — is facing a similar transition following point guard Frank Mason’s departure.

“If there was any advice I could give Devonté, I think that half the battle would be recognizing the difference from junior and senior year,” Johnson said Tuesday. “Not really just really erasing Tyshawn or Frank out of the picture, but just (realizing) your own personal responsibilities.”

Johnson remembers it being difficult. He was accustomed to Taylor serving as lead guard, which meant Johnson could often wait on the perimeter for a pass before shooting threes — 204 of them his junior season.

The next year, things shifted. Johnson shot 157 perimeter shots, instead focusing his energy on getting attempts for teammates like Ben McLemore.

“I was the one who had to run around off of a million ball screens and create something when nothing else was going on,” Johnson said. “Sometimes when I’m tired, that bothered me, and a lot of times when I wasn’t getting up some shots, that would bother me a little bit, coming from junior year and just being able to stand around.”

Johnson, in these moments, gained more respect for Taylor.

“I didn’t realize how much he had to do, and I think Devonté will realize the same thing with Frank,” Johnson said. “But I have faith in Devonté in figuring it out.”

The situations appear similar. Graham shot 242 threes a year ago — second-most in the Big 12 — while many times waiting for Mason to drive and pitch.

Graham’s bigger goal this year is likely to be freeing up guys like Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick so they can be at their best.

“The practices, the grind ... it’s definitely going to be a little different,” Johnson said. “I think that half of that battle is to realize that’s the situation. Most people don’t realize it and they feel that they can play as (they did) junior year, and that’s not the case.”

Johnson related the circumstances to playing professionally, as he’s done the last four seasons. If a player is signed to be a passer, he goes into the season thinking about assists. If he’s signed as a scorer, he focuses his energy on that role.

Graham isn’t under contract next season, but he’ll likely learn that distributing will be one of his major responsibilities if KU hopes to reach its offensive ceiling.

Johnson believes Graham is smart enough to quickly embrace this new reality.

“It seems like he’s got his head on right, so I think he’s definitely thinking about these types of questions that you guys are asking,” Johnson said. “I think he’ll be all right. It took me a while.

“And after figuring it out, it’s about accepting it.”

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell