Elijah Johnson fights off a defender as he quarterbacks the Jayhawk offense against Tennessee Tech on November 27.
Now that we've had a week-plus to digest and pick apart the latest Kansas debacle in Oklahoma City, it's time to step back and take a look at the season as a whole, rather than with the last sour taste in our mouth. Certainly, had we gone through the roster and given out "season grades" last Sunday, in our then-current states, most players likely would have not passed the RCT class.
So, with that, we'll start at the bottom of roster of "regulars" to see the court and work our way up. Leading off this 11-part series will be freshman guard Elijah Johnson. Elijah is your prototypical Bill Self 1-2 combo guard. Cut in the mold of a Mario Chalmers, Johnson can either run the point or play the off 2-guard. It's been a poorly kept secret that Self loves these kind of guards, which is curious that he didn't play more.
Elijah committed to the Jayhawks on October 18, 2008 - no doubt on the heels of another special Late Night in the Phog the weekend before. He came by way of Cheyenne High School in Las Vegas, Nevada. In his senior year at CHS, he averaged a modest 15 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4 assists per game. However, the loudest noise he made as an incoming recruit to Kansas was during the 2009 Wazoo Sports Derby Classic, when he threw down this outrageous fastbreak dunk.
Well, Elijah didn't lose those insane hops as a freshman at Kansas. He had a couple opportunities to stretch his legs and fly. A nice alley-oop from fellow freshman Xavier Henry in the second half of this short video served as proof of that. There was also a "controversial" dunk in the waning seconds of the game at home against Texas in January where Elijah raced to the rack with seconds left in the game and threw down a poster worthy dunk on a Tech defender, rather than running down the clock when the Jayhawks were up 24. That says that he was ready to play, but wasn't being given the chance at the time.
On the season, Elijah appeared in 23 of the Jayhawks' 36 games. He played in 12 of the first 13 games of the season, and 17 of the first 20. While Brady Morningstar was serving his first semester suspension, Elijah played in all 9 games and averaged 4.3 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 12.2 minutes per game. When Morningstar returned against Michigan on December 19, he was immediately inserted into the rotation ahead of Elijah and remained there the rest of the season.
The high of Elijah's freshman season came on December 9 against Radford when he played 15 minutes and had 11 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist on 4-6 shooting and 2-2 from three. Perhaps, though, his most promising performance came on December 2 against Alcorn State when he dropped more (9) dimes (assists) on the Allen Fieldhouse floor than you'll find in a wishing fountain. Couple that with his acceptance to play 21 minutes and not score a point, (taking just 4 shots) and Elijah showed that he could be a very good point guard down the line.
Depending on the upcoming commitment announcement of Josh Selby, Elijah could be in the mix for the starting 2- guard spot next year alongside Tyshawn Taylor at the point. If Selby does indeed choose the Jayhawks, Elijah will likely be the first or second guard off the bench with Tyrel Reed serving mostly a three point shooter's role.
Final 2010 Grade: Incomplete
While only seeing Elijah promarily during the early part of the season, we didn't see the progression he made in practice everyday on the court. After the first month of next season you can come back and pencil in a real grade for him, but at this point, you just can't say. When he was given a chance to perform early on, however, he was good. Next year will be a big year for Elijah, as the greatest improvement in a player's college career comes between their freshman and sophomore year. If he makes a Marcus Morris-like leap, we're going to have a serious player to watch.