Fledgling Jayhawk Impressive

I've always said that there's not enough money on the planet to make me put my job security in the hands of 18-year-old kids. If more of them played basketball like Elijah Johnson, however, I might be willing to reconsider.

The 6-2 freshman scored nine points, grabbed a pair of rebounds and dished two assists in his 20-minute Allen Field House debut. He also woke up a drowsy Kansas crowd with a highlight reel dunk off a hustle play by Xavier Henry followed by a textbook breakaway alley oop pass from Tyshawn Taylor.
"The dunk felt real good," Elijah Johnson said. "I didn't see it comin', but when I saw the ball in the air, I knew I had to go get it."
He went and got it, alright. With a vengeance. Johnson burned upon re-entry.
"I'm not sure how high I got. I'd like to see the replay. I think I could've gotten higher," he said, smiling from ear to ear.
Coach Bill Self was in typical early season, "toning-down-expectations" mode when it came to his evaluation of Johnson and his two other prized frosh, but even he knows Johnson is a special player.
"(Johnson's) gonna be good, I think. I thought all our young kids played good. I thought Thomas played really well – he just fouled. I thought Xavier showed flashes, and I think Elijah – he's a different caliber athlete, as everybody saw tonight
Of course, Self pointed out Johnson's four turnovers to go with his two assists, but he chalked those up to being a freshman.
"He turns the ball over, he's a little out of control and I think he can play to his athletic ability. I don't think plays near as fast as what he's potentially capable of playing because he's playing cautious now," Self said.
Johnson's performance also convinced talk of a redshirt for Las Vegas native to bed.
"We were thinking strongly about redshirting Elijah, but I'm not feelin' that. I think he can help us play faster," Self said.
Senior guard Sherron Collins agreed, "I think Elijah is going to do a lot of good things, especially with picking up the up-tempo pace that we want to play."
It might seem that Johnson came out of nowhere. He really didn't get a lot of recruiting hype, despite his energy and freakish athleticism. Self all but admitted the Jayhawks might have snuck out one of the best bargains in this year's freshman class, a guy who managed to fly under the radar because he missed recruiting's biggest showcase: the AAU summer circuit.
"We though all along he was one of the best unranked players out there. The way AAU ball is, the ranking so much is based on summer, and he didn't play summer ball last year. Then he was knicked up the majority of the school year," Self explained.
The lack of stars next to his name didn't make a lick of difference Tuesday night, though. Johnson smiled so hard in the postgame media room that it made my face hurt.
"It felt great," he said. "It was unexplainable, especially to have a breakout like that. I'll never forget it. It was just adrenaline pumping 100 percent. Crowd going crazy, playing in front of that many people for the first time, it was great."
Pregame jitters set in to the point that Johnson said, "I was going crazy at first; I couldn't warm up right. So the sophomore class talked to me. They sent me back to memory lane, with what they went through last year, it helped a lot."
The most helpful tip, Johnson said, came from Marcus Morris: think about something funny. There was one problem, though: he was so nervous, he couldn't come up with anything.
"But (Morris) said something funny, and that was it. I was calm. He also told me that it was just another day and to be calm."
Johnson was asked what it was that Morris said that was so funny. He thought for a second then laughed and said, "I can't actually remember."
That's about the only thing Elijah Johnson won't remember about Tuesday night.

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