To Johnson, it's all about the win
(Peter G. Aiken/US PRESSWIRE)
Phog.net
Posted Mar 9, 2012


Most players coming off a 26-point game would be chomping at the bit to repeat such a prolific scoring effort. But that's not Elijah Johnson. A night after his white-hot shooting helped push the Kansas Jayhawks past the Texas A&M Aggies in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals, he's just focused on doing whatever it takes to get the next win.

To hear Kansas head coach Bill Self tell it, Elijah Johnson might be his team's best shooter.

The stats aren't the best evidentiary support of that statement. It's been an up and down year for the junior from Las Vegas from beyond the arc - more off than on, truthfully - as he's connected on just 32.7-percent of his attempts thus far.

But the stats don't reflect what Self sees in practice every day, when sometimes it seems as if Johnson can't miss. And all year long, he's maintained that at some point Johnson's shot will start to fall in droves. It was never a question of "if," only of "when."

Well, "when" has become "now." In his last five games, Johnson has connected on 13-of-25 three-point attempts, a white-hot 52-percent, including a 5-of-7 barrage Thursday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, as the Jayhawks took down the Texas A&M Aggies in Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal play.

It's been an emotional few days for the athletic shooting guard, who left Lawrence, Kan. from Sunday through Tuesday to be with his family after the passing of his uncle.

Once he returned, however, Johnson was all business, in large part because of Self who has, unfortunately, become accustomed to guiding his players through personal tragedy - as in the highly-publicized case of junior power forward Thomas Robinson.

Robinson never wanted to be treated differently, to be handled with kid gloves, and neither did Johnson. Even if it meant Self rode him as hard as ever during practice.

"It doesn't really bother me, (because) I know that he's not trying to treat me special," Johnson said. "He wants me to know 'Hey, snap back in to it. Stuff happened. Deal with it."

Self has become a master of handling the various egos and different personalities under his care each and every year, and it's not always about tough love.

Take Wednesday's practice, for example. Johnson was on fire, hitting shot after shot after shot, and he didn't think Self noticed. But he felt good anyway.

Thursday's pre-game shoot around wasn't quite as smooth, but as the team prepared to run out on to the floor - Johnson is always the last one out - Self sidled up to him and let him know he'd been watching; that his shot looked as pure as it had all year long.

Johnson looked at him in surprise, and Self just smiled.

"You didn't think I knew, huh?" he asked. "I know everything."

That comment might not have been solely responsible for Johnson's career-high 26-point scoring outburst versus the Aggies, but it provided him with the initial boost of confidence to get the ball rolling.

After all, he explained, if you don't feel special after hearing it from your head coach, there's not too many people who can get through to you. And for a player such as Johnson - for whom early success and the confidence it breeds is so important - that little nudge can make a world of difference.

"If I make two shots, that can be the difference in my game," Johnson said. "I know I shoot a lot of threes but those threes add up when you make them. They can add up to 26 sometimes."

"I feel confident," he added. "I feel confident all the time, but you feel it sometimes even more."

Here's the best thing about Johnson though, from the perspective of anyone who has ever coached the game of basketball.

He knows that if he's not scoring, it doesn't mean he can't influence a game. In his first season as a major part of the Kansas game plan, he's averaging more than 30 minutes, three rebounds and almost four assists per game, in addition to nine points. He's stepped his game up as a defender as well, and though he's still somewhat inconsistent on that end of the floor, when he's locked in he's as good as they come.

So when the Jayhawks take the court versus Baylor in semi-final action tonight, he may continue his shooting hot streak. He may not. He doesn't even believe his breakout scoring game Thursday night will necessarily carry over versus the Bears.

He just knows he'll find a way to make an impact any way he can.

"I don't judge my game off of making shots," Johnson said. "If I score zero points and we win by 30, hey, I'm all for it. I don't care. You can take two points from me before I score. I'll go out with negative two. I will, because I don't care about myself individually. I care about our team, because that's who I've gotta go back with at the end of the day."

Tip-off between the Bears and the Jayhawks is set for 6:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.



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