Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson are going to be the two most valuable players for Kansas next season.
They will be the veterans, the team’s leaders. Taylor is a three-year starter that has been through the battles with this group, while Robinson is the one guy seemingly everyone in the country is predicting will breakout this season. CBSSports.com went as far as to pick Robinson as a first-team all-american, over the likes of Tyler Zeller, Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and John Henson.
That’s saying a lot.
But two players aren’t going to win you anything in college basketball. Kansas is going to need a couple of the guys who have spent their careers at Kansas coming off of the bench to develop into stars this year. Bill Self agrees, and he thinks junior Elijah Johnson will be that guy.
“He has a chance to blow up. He does,” Self said of the junior combo guard who averaged 3.4 ppg and 1.8 apg in 13.7 mpg as a sophomore. “He’s been very impressive to us (since end of last season). He’s been a kid for whatever reason has not quite put it all together yet. He needs to put it together for us to have our best chance. I think we haven’t seen a glimpse of what he can be. He’s one of the better all-around guards we’ve recruited since we’ve been here. He just hasn’t had a chance to show it.”
Johnson is a terrific talent. He’s a terrific athlete with great size for the back court that can score by attacking the basket or shooting from deep. He’s also a playmaker, as he was recruited to Kansas as a point guard.
But Johnson hasn’t been able to get consistent minutes as a Jayhawk. Part of it has been a numbers game — he was playing behind guys like Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar. Part of it was attitude, as well. Johnson didn’t necessarily but into the idea of playing defense, and had far too many incidents like this.
It appears, at least through media day quotes, like Johnson is finally starting to “get it”, however:
“To hear him say I’m improved … that means a lot. It means I’m doing what this team needs me to do,” Johnson said.
The area on which he has improved the most?
“Being a leader,” Johnson said. “Really just that. I feel everything else just falls into place.”
“I just take it as … I don’t even want to say as a challenge. I feel disrespected when someone tries to dribble and go past me nowadays,” Johnson said. “My attitude has changed. Someone scores on me, I take it personal. Even if you can’t see it on my face, I take it personal nowadays. I think coach Self put that in me.”
If Johnson does live up to his potential, it gives Kansas one of the most versatile and dangerous back courts in the country. Throw in Robinson in the middle, and that’s a tough 1-2-3 punch.
But its also an “if”.
And I’m getting sick of these “ifs”. Anyone else ready for the season to start?
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.